Naomi Osaka on lighting Tokyo Olympic cauldron: “The greatest athletic achievement I will ever have in my life”

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The four-time major winner was awarded the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron as the final torchbearer of the Olympic Torch Relay at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony.

Last night’s Opening ceremony still has Naomi Osaka speechless.

The 23-year-old Japanese tennis star concluded the night’s proceedings when she poignantly lowered the Olympic flame into the Olympic cauldron symbolically signalling the opening of the Games.

Osaka, acknowledging the power of the message she was chosen to deliver, took to her social media to reflect on the personal significance of the occasion:

“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement I will ever have in my life,” wrote Osaka.

I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know that I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness love you guys thank you - Naomi Osaka

As the cauldron ignited and the incandescent flame began to glow, the “Stronger Together” sentiment that will ground the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was felt both inside the Olympic stadium and around the world.

Tokyo 2020: Osaka finally back in action

The women’s singles tennis tournament at Tokyo will also mark another big moment in the career of Osaka; it will be her first return to tennis since the first round of the French Open in June earlier this year.

The 2021 Australian Open champion stunned the sport when she announced she would be withdrawing from Roland Garros to focus on her mental health.

It was a decision that also saw her miss the Wimbledon Championships in July.

Returning to represent Japan at her home Olympic Games, the four-time Grand Slam winner will carry the expectations of a nation when she takes to court in her Olympic debut.

Should Osaka clinch the gold medal she would become make history as the first tennis gold medal winner from Japan.

Osaka will face ZHENG Saisai of the People's Republic of China in the first round of the women's tennis event.

“If you don’t fit the expectation, change it” Naomi Osaka #StrongerTogether
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Naomi Osaka is proof that the definition of an Olympian is broader than people think. The tennis star encourages girls all over the world to embrace their individuality. To be the ones who get to change the expectation. #StrongerTogether #Tokyo2020 #Olympics

“If you don’t fit the expectation, change it”

As well as being a tennis champion, Naomi Osaka has also become something of a leading light for individuality.

The Japanese-Haitain-American athlete, who opted to represent Japan at Tokyo 2020 in 2019, has suffered discrimination and had her culture challenged throughout the course of her career.

In her #StrongerTogether message ahead of the Games, Osaka speaks on how she is living proof that there is an unique power in difference:

“People might think I’m quiet; different. That I don’t fit the box of what an Olympian should be. But I am proof that the definition is bigger than people think.”

“And if don’t fit that expectation of what people think we’re supposed to be – good. That just means we’re the ones that get to change it.”

As one chosen to light the cauldron and unite the world in one singular, breath-taking moment, Osaka is also one lighting the way for change.