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Naomi Osaka revealed to be the final Tokyo Olympics torchbearer

Over a year after being lit, the torch reached its final destination in Tokyo.
Japan's tennis player Naomi Osaka carries the Olympic torch in the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.Jeff Pachoud / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

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.

Opening Ceremony - Olympics: Day 0
Naomi Osaka of Team Japan is handed the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.Maja Hitij / Getty Images

"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.

French Open Tennis. Roland-Garros 2021.
Naomi Osaka at the French Open Tennis Tournament in May in Paris, France. Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images

She made headlines for declining to do media interviews ahead of the French Open in May, and then for withdrawing from the event altogether.

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.

Tokyo Olympics torch relay
Kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro lighting the Olympic cauldron in front of the metropolitan government headquarters building on July 23, in Tokyo, Japan.Kyodo News via Getty Images

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.