Paralympic star who lit the cauldron to start Olympic Torch Relay carries torch in hometown

TAGUCHI Aki takes the flame and begins her portion of the Olympic Torch Relay.
TAGUCHI Aki takes the flame and begins her portion of the Olympic Torch Relay.

Three-time Paralympic shooter TAGUCHI Aki, who started the relay in March, carried the Olympic torch around the Flower Expo Memorial Park during the final day of its visit to Osaka.

As the Osaka leg of the Olympic Torch Relay drew to a close on the same day Tokyo 2020 marked 100 days until the Opening Ceremony, Paralympian TAGUCHI Aki and national team member for Moscow 1980 Games SHIMAZU Mari got their chance to shine.

Taguchi, has competed at three consecutive Paralympic Games (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012), and waited patiently until it was her chance to carry the Olympic flame in her hometown.

The retired athlete has been heavily involved in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As one of the Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay Ambassadors, Taguchi has visited several schools including the Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Support School and Watanoha Lower Secondary School in Inshinomaki City, to highlight the significance of the event.

"The students expressed their desire to participate not only in the torch relay but also in the arrival ceremony of the torch from Greece to Japan in Miyagi Prefecture, and to support the torchbearers from the roadside," Taguchi said in 2019.

"When I see people posing with smiles on their faces, I realise that the torch relay is a way to raise interest and expectations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games," she continued.

It was in March last year that the 50-year-old, who developed a vascular disease of the spinal cord in her 20s, was preparing to attend the Grand Start at J-Village. But just two days later, the Games were postponed.

Fast forward a year, however, and on 25 March 2021, alongside actor ISHIHARA Satomi, Taguchi lit the celebration cauldron to mark the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay in Fukushima.

"As the concept of the event, 'Let's connect the path of hope', as a runner, I would like to connect the torch with the hope of everyone," said Taguchi, who is also a member of the Tokyo 2020 Athlete Commission.

With late afternoon approaching at the Flower Expo Memorial Park, the Olympic flame continued to shine brightly as Taguchi carried the torch for her section of the Relay.

SHIMAZU Mari carries the flame in Osaka.
SHIMAZU Mari carries the flame in Osaka.
Tokyo 2020

SHIMAZU Mari was selected as part of Japan's swimming team for the Moscow 1980 Games.

Her ultimate goal was to go to the Olympics after years of sacrifices to make her dream a reality. Unfortunately, Japan chose to not participate in those Games and Shimazu never got the chance to become an Olympian.

While over four decades have passed since then, the 57-year-old volunteer, who teaches swimming to children with impairments, still had the dream of wanting to participate in the Olympic Games - and tonight it finally came true.

As the last torchbearer of Osaka Prefecture, Shimazu was all smiles as she carried the Olympic flame around the park.

"I hope to experience the joy of participating in the Olympics, even if it takes a different form," she told Tokyo 2020 prior to her run.

And despite the alternative measures in place for the Osaka leg of the Olympic Torch Relay, Shimazu who is an Osaka native, was still excited to be part of the Olympic Games after all these years.

"I am grateful for the idea of ​​being able to relay somehow," she said.

On Thursday the Olympic Torch Relay will visit Tokushima Prefecture, located on the island of Shinkoku, the smallest of Japan’s major islands, and you can watch it live on Tokyo 2020.