3. Flame Lighting: Osaka carries the torch, tennis and more at the Olympics

The usual sense of anticipation built up just before the final torch bearer was unveiled at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, and then as the cameras swung around, all was revealed—yes, it was indeed Naomi Osaka.

Jogging up the steps to light the cauldron, the 23-year-old instantly turned into the face of the Tokyo Games, something she would call the "greatest... honor" she has received. It was also a big moment for tennis—the first time a player from the sport had had the honor of starting the Games.


The choice of Osaka was equally significant for Japan, reflecting the growing internationalism of its population. Aptly born in Osaka, Japan, she has Japanese mother and a Haitian father, and is based in the United States.

And for many, Osaka's selection had an even broader resonance—by protesting against police violence in 2020 and raising awareness of athletes's psychological issues this season, she has also become a beacon of social activism.


Her announcement that she would not give any press conferences at Roland Garros proved divisive—it received a firm rebuke from the Grand Slams and few players, not to mention journalists, supported her publicly. At the same time, she did gain some prominent backing politically, and there was a wave of concern when she decided not to play the event and take a break from the game. Subsequently, Osaka said she would "think it through a bit more" next time and was surprised at the amount of attention it had received.

Still, she kicked off a conversation about athletes and public pressure that rippled through into the Olympics and beyond, and led the WTA to provide more flexibility for players around press conferences.

Oh, and she even played some tennis, capturing the Australian Open to add another Grand Slam to her collection, though competing only sporadically the rest of the season.

Given all that, Osaka was carrying not just the Olympic torch, but a whole lot more at the opening ceremony of the Toyko Games.