Naomi Osaka Makes History Lighting Olympic Cauldron in Tokyo

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Tennis star Naomi Osaka is keeping the Olympic Games lit.

On Friday, the four-time Grand Slam champion made history as the first tennis player to light the cauldron, kicking off the Summer Games in Tokyo. Per tradition, the cauldron will say lit for the entirety of the Games.

Despite having moved to New York when she was 3 years old, Osaka — who was born in Japan — has played on behalf of Japan in international competitions since she was 14. To play on behalf of Japan, she had to give up her U.S. citizenship prior to turning 22.

The now 23-year-old followed in "the footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Paavo Nurmi, Rafer Johnson, Midori Ito, Yuna Kim, and Wayne Gretzky," according to the New York Times, when she climbed a stylized Mount Fuji in the form of a pyramid to light the cauldron. She did so to the tune of Japanese group Keyakizaka46′s song "Ambivalent."

Fans showed appreciation for the history-making occasion on social media, writing that they were "sobbing for her" and that the moment induced "chills, literal chills."

Osaka made headlines earlier this year when she withdrew from the French Open in an effort to protect her mental health. In an impassioned statement on Instagram, the tennis great wrote that it was the “the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being" for her to drop out.

She also revealed to fans that she had "suffered long bouts of depression" since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018. In an essay for Time earlier this month, Osaka elaborated on this and told readers it made her "uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers."

"I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it,” she wrote. 

This post is part of a series covering the talented female athletes competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Stay up to date on their latest achievements and watch them go for gold here

Tags: Groundbreaking Women, Black History, Pop Culture

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Written By

Rose Low

Rose Low is a writer based in New York, with a background in social media strategy and reporting. She has a Masters from NYU and a love for romantic comedies. See Full Bio

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