The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Tokyo looks to torchbeare­r to mend image


TOKYO — Battered by scandal on the eve of the opening ceremony, Tokyo 2020 organizers have the chance to patch up the Games' image when they reveal who will carry the Olympic flame for the final few steps to light the stadium's cauldron.

The identity of the final torchbeare­r is one of the Games' most closely held secrets yet speculatio­n has swirled for months around well-known athletes such as former Seattle Mariners baseball player Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, the latest Japanese player to woo the United States.

One sports figure who might be able to soften public resentment over the hosting of the Games during the pandemic is four times Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka.

With a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Osaka represents what a more modern and more diverse Japan looks like.

The build-up to the Games has been marked by a string of gaffes by organizers and Japan has also come under fire for holding the Olympics in the midst of the pandemic.

Two-thirds of people said they doubted that Japan could host a safe Games, with more than half saying they opposed the Olympics going ahead, according to a poll published by the Asahi newspaper.

Other well-known sports figures talked about as possible torchbeare­rs include threetime Olympic judo champion Tadahiro Nomura, breaststro­ke gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima and Saori Yoshida, an Olympic wrestling champion who also won 13 straight world championsh­ips.

Yet some commentato­rs have called for a non-celebrity, who would represent the country's recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster, devastated Japan's northeast coastline and killed nearly 20,000 people.

Japan made a similar choice in 1964 — the last time Tokyo hosted the Games — when Yoshinori Sakai, a 19-year-old college athlete born in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day of the U.S. atomic bombing, brought the flame into the stadium.

Whoever carries the torch on Friday, the new stadium, built on the same site as the one used for the 1964 Games, will be nearly empty, with only around 950 people, mostly officials and journalist­s, watching in the stands.

Yet the torchbeare­r's face will likely be seen by hundreds of millions of people watching around the world.

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