Naomi Osaka made history on Friday when she lit the Olympic flame at the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first ever tennis player to do so.
The No. 2 tennis player in the world, who is playing on behalf of Japan in the Summer Games, lit the cauldron that will stay illuminated for the entirety of the Games.
The flame was initially lit on March 12, 2020, at a ceremony in Olympia, Greece, and remained lit for a year due to the Games’ postponement. According to NBC News, the Olympic torch relay to the cauldron began on March 25, 2021, and continued over a period of 121 days before reaching Tokyo on July 9.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the relay was mostly spectator-free.
Osaka, who was born in Japan before moving to New York at 3 years old, has previously represented Japan in international competitions. For her to compete in this year’s games, she had to give up her U.S. citizenship prior to turning 22.
The four-time Grand Slam champion, now 23, walked out to light the cauldron to the Japanese group Keyakizaka46’s song “Ambivalent.”
Her appearance at the Games comes on the heels of her withdrawal from the French Open to protect her mental health.
In a statement posted to her Instagram in May, Osaka said dropping out would be “the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being.”
She’d later push back on the “out of date” rules that require athletes to do so much press in an essay for Time magazine.
“I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet,” she wrote.
Osaka concluded the piece by saying she feels “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. “There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”
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