Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascot Miraitowa holds the torch of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Photo: REUTERS file
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Japan speculates over identity of final Olympic torchbearer

25 Comments
By Kiyoshi Takenaka

With the Tokyo Olympics less than a year away, speculation is growing in Japan over who will be the final torchbearer to light the cauldron in the new Olympic Stadium, in the traditional ritual that begins every Games.

Some predict a famous Japanese athlete, such as retired baseball player Ichiro Suzuki, will do the honors. Others say it will be an ordinary, but symbolically important, person.

Picked to light the flame in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games, was Yoshinori Sakai, a 19-year-old college athlete born in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day of the U.S. atomic bombing - a choice meant to highlight Japan's remarkable post-war reconstruction.

This time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants the Games to showcase Japan's recovery from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear crisis, fueling speculation that the choice could be a young person or emerging athlete from the devastated northeast.

Olympic organizers say they will not reveal the final torchbearer's identity until the torch arrives in the stadium on live television, watched by billions of spectators.

FAMOUS ATHLETES

Three-time gold medal-winning wrestler Saori Yoshida is one possibility often mentioned in domestic media. A household name in Japan, she won 13 straight World Wrestling Championship titles, surpassing Russian great Aleksandr Karelin's nine.

Another oft-named candidate is rising international baseball star Shohei Ohtani. The winner of last year's American League Rookie of the Year award is sometimes compared to the legendary Babe Ruth, because he can both pitch and hit at an elite level.

Picking a baseball player might be a nod to the one-off reappearance of the sport at this Olympics after it was removed in 2012 and 2016.

Yuzuru Hanyu, a heartthrob for the Japanese, who became the first man in more than 50 years to win back-to-back figure skating gold medals, also figures in the discussion. He hails from Sendai, a northern city hit by the 2011 tsunami.

Other former Olympic champions in the running include three-time judo champ Tadahiro Nomura and breaststroke king Kosuke Kitajima. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper has also mentioned Naoko Takahashi, a gold medallist in women's marathon, besides Yoshida, Nomura and Kitajima.

DIVERSITY AND YOUTH

In an effort to show Japan is becoming a more diverse society, organizers could choose rising tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother Japanese.

Or, in a nod to the future, they could pick 20-year-old golfer Hinako Shibuno, who won the Women's British Open this month in her first LPGA event, the first Japanese woman to win a major in 42 years.

"This time, it's got to be Shohei Ohtani or Naomi Osaka or Hinako Shibuno," said 80-year-old Toshihiro Ishikawa, who watched the opening ceremony at the 1964 Games from a seat in the now-defunct original national stadium. "They have a great future ahead of them. If such a person climbs the stairs and lights the cauldron, it will brighten the entire nation."

TORCH RELAY

To emphasize Japan's recovery from the 2011 disaster, after the Olympic flame is lit in Greece, it will be flown to Matsushima air base, which was hit by the tsunami.

Then the four-month torch relay will begin on March 26 at J-Village, a soccer training centre in Fukushima that served as a frontline operations base for workers who battled the crisis at the nuclear power plant after meltdowns at three reactors.

About 10,000 people will participate in the torch relay across Japan in the lead-up to the July 24-Aug. 9 Olympics. Each is set to run about 200 meters.

Those seeking to participate must apply by the end of August through a task force in each of Japan's 47 prefectures or through companies sponsoring the relay.

The 2020 organizers say they will not reveal how the final torchbearer will be chosen.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
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They'll probably choose the pen-pineapple-pineapple-pen idiot.

0 ( +10 / -10 )

Surely it’ll be the Chosen One/King of Israel?

0 ( +8 / -8 )

100% it won't be Ohtani when the Olympics are right smack in the middle of the MLB baseball players and MLB players don't play in the Summer Olympics. Ichiro is a safer bet unless he has a job in the MLB next year.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

As long as it wont be Abe or Aso. Or Mori even, for the love of god.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I'd be astounded if the committee of oyajis charged with making this decision selects a famous young person (under 40!), or a famous female.

In the tradition of largely avoiding making decisions in an attempt to not offend those not chosen, I'd imagine they'd select a non-human such as Mario, or a non-famous person such as a teenage boy and girl from Fukushima.

How about having the recently retired Emperor pass the torch to a young teenage boy and girl from Fukushima who then go on to light the Olympic flame?

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Why don't they just do what they did at London 2012 and get a load of young athletes to light the cauldron. The Games are supposed to be about legacy and youth anyway.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Surprise! It's Mario

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

let,s hope they can make a good choice in which (most) people can agree.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

let,s hope they can make a good choice in which (most) people can agree with.

but at the end of the day, that,s not the most important thing.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

How about having the recently retired Emperor pass the torch to a young teenage boy and girl from Fukushima who then go on to light the Olympic flame?

@Hollis - What would be the message there - "the tens of billions we could have spent on disaster relief and recovery efforts for Fukushima, we've spent on these games so hope you boys and girls enjoy?"

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

ASIMO?

Seriously though, London 2012 nailed the lighting of the Olympic flame when they had 7 great Olympians each hand a torch to a local youngster - literally and metaphorically passing the torch to the next generation.

I like HollisBrown's idea of the old Emperor passing the torch to some youngsters - but can see why that would probably never happen. It could be a hugely significant moment if the current Emperor passed the torch to some youngsters - the leader of the Reiwa era giving opportunities and responsibilities to the younger generation.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

possibly Ikee Rikako because of the story of her success followed by her sudden health problem.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Mao-chan!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Come on, it has to be Ichiro. He is the most well respected Japanese athlete.

Yuzuru Hanyu, a heartthrob for the Japanese, who became the first man in more than 50 years to win back-to-back figure skating gold medals, also figures in the discussion. He hails from Sendai, a northern city hit by the 2011 tsunami.

A winter olympian lighting the torch for the summer olympics would be too weird.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I bet Keisuke Honda begs to be the one.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@smithinjapan

Laughed out loud, thank you! I really needed a good laugh tonight!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Kumamon!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

There are so many options, it is going to be a big headache for the Government to choose! Kitajima Kosuke. Murofushi. Ichiro. Naomi-chan. Yuzuru-chan. Mao-chan. Nishikori Kei. Yoshida Saori. Ai-chan. Takahashi Naomi.

There are literally too many choices of champion athletes. Perhaps, they can all do it simultaneously.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Come on, cobber-chan. That’s unreasonable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

BabyMetal?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'd vote for Sachio Kinugasa.Would be an acknowledgement of the old Japan having "moved forward" but remembering those considered "half" but Japanese from before.It's not a sexy pick I know.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Then I went on Wiki to see he died last year on my ol'lady's birthday.RIP Sachi. Twas the same age as my dad so he departed quite young.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Naomi Osaka!

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@Black Sabbath

Naomi Osaka!

Naomi Osaka may not remain a Japanese citizen by next year, under Japan's citizenship law that bans dual citizenship and forces individuals to choose.

If forced to choose between US and Japan, Naomi will choose the US.

This is the country that Naomi grew up and calls home. Japan is merely an ancestral homeland to Naomi, like how Germany is an ancestral homeland of Donald Trump.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

How about Shonen Knife?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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