Tokyo Olympics: Tennis Star Naomi Osaka Lights Olympic Flame

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, served as the final Olympic torchbearer for the Tokyo Olympic Games, lighting the Olympic flame during Friday night’s Opening Ceremony.

It was a surreal affair with no fans allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and only just under 10,000 guests of honour, Games stakeholders and members of the media were in attendance.

The 23-year-old Osaka, a three-time Grand Slam champion and Japan’s most recognisable athlete on the international stage, was heavily tipped to light the Olympic Flame which sat on top of a Mount Fuji inspired stage.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito had earlier officially opened the Games in front of dignitaries including American First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The COVID-19 pandemic heavily influenced the Ceremony after the worldwide health crisis forced the Games back by 12 months.

Organisers tried to convey a message of hope through sport, but the fact that many in Japan are against the Games going ahead was clearly evident by noisy protests which could be heard outside.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach used his speech to thank the people of Japan and in particular the athletes.

“You had to face great challenges,” he said.

“You did not even know if this competition would take place at all.

“You struggled, you preserved, you never gave up and you are making your Olympic dream come true.

“You are true Olympic athletes.

“You inspired us to fight like you and for you to make this moment possible.

“Dear athletes, this Olympic community is with you tonight and during these Olympic Games.

“Billions of people from around the world will be glued to their screens, sending you their enthusiasm, and cheering you on.”

After being passed from baseball legends to children, the torch was handed to Osaka, who walked to the base of the stage, which split open to reveal a set of stairs as the cauldron unfolded like a flower.

She then climbed the stairs and lit the cauldron as fireworks briefly illuminated the sky.

Highlights of the Ceremony included an interactive pictogram performance and a display of drones forming the Tokyo 2020 emblem.

John Lennon‘s song Imagine – a nod to Japan’s Yoko Ono – featured, alongside the release of virtual doves to symbolise peace.

A lengthy parade of nations saw countries march with much smaller delegations than normal – a result of coronavirus restrictions.

All in all it was a strange affair – with the big moments lacking the normal roars and excitement from a packed crowd and the speeches just met with scattered applause.