Naomi Osaka has officially kicked off the Olympics 2021!
On July 23, the tennis champion, who is competing on Team Japan, lit the Olympic cauldron at Japan National Stadium to mark the start of the Summer Games. Before Osaka was passed the torch, it had been handed off by luminaries including Hideki Matsui and hometown heroes like a Japanese doctor and nurse, per People. Paralympian Tsuchida Wakako gave the torch to local students, who gave it to Osaka. This year’s torch has five petals and was sculpted to resemble a cherry blossom, the unofficial national flower of Japan, according to the NBC Olympics.
“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” Osaka tweeted. “I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness love you guys thank you.”
In addition to lighting the cauldron – which will be extinguished during the Closing Ceremonies on August 8 – Osaka will play her first match this coming Sunday, July 25.
This will be the first time Naomi Osaka has competed since dropping out of the French Open in May to preserve her mental health after being penalized for missing a press conference. In a personal essay published in Time, Osaka opened up further about her decision to remove herself from the Grand Slam tournaments.
“Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course, there are commitments off the court that coincide,” she wrote in July. “But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized.”
Osaka called for the protection of athletes on and off the court. “I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again,” she added. “So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.”
Of course, that will be during her run at the Olympics 2021, which she just helped kick off. “I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo,” she wrote in Time. “An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”