Let the Tokyo Olympic Games begin!
On Friday, the Olympic cauldron was set ablaze during the opening ceremony by Naomi Osaka, the final torchbearer to carry the flame. She received the final flame and carried it up a set of stairs surrounded by light, to a shape resembling a cherry blossom opening, then solemnly added the flame to the center.
"It was thrilling, especially after the year she's had," noted TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. "She's such an incredible athlete and for her to triumphantly be there and walk those steps, that was a moment for her, for this country, for the year that everyone has been through and what everyone has had to overcome."
Added Guthrie, "It was just incredible for her to be playing here in Tokyo after missing the summer of tennis. You know, in a way, who else could it be? I had hoped it would be her."
The final torchbearer position is usually held by a person of note, often a well-known athlete, and in Osaka's case, that was true as well. Osaka a four-time Grand Slam champion tennis player who's ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association, is originally from Osaka, Japan.
A burning flame harks back all the way to the origin of the Games in ancient Greece; it was first added to the modern Olympics in 1928. The lighting traditionally begins in Olympia, Greece; the lighting ceremony this time started on March 12, 2020, just before the Games' postponement due to COVID-19.
After being kept in storage for a year following that initial lighting, the torch relay began anew in Japan on March 26 in Fukushima Prefecture, as members of Japan's 2011 World-Cup winning women's soccer team began the relay. Eventually, the flame was carried through all of Japan's 47 prefectures — though COVID-19 precautions prevented it from being brought through public streets in Tokyo.
The identity of the final torchbearer is kept under wraps until the start of the Games, and may not always be someone well-known: In the 2012 London Games, seven young athletes were nominated by British Olympians to take care of the lighting.