TOKYO — Lighting the Olympic caldron, even at a Video games considerably deflated by the coronavirus pandemic, is likely one of the highest honors in sport.
Names as huge as Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali have finished it, however so have an obscure archer and a 12-year-old schoolgirl.
So predicting who will do it at this yr’s opening ceremony on Friday should be a close to not possible job, proper? Effectively contemplate that The New York Occasions accurately predicted in 2016 that Vanderlei de Lima, a marathon bronze medalist, would get the honour. In 2012, a bunch of unknown youngsters had been chosen to gentle the caldron, however our decide of the rower Steven Redgrave was the final distinguished athlete to carry the torch, so we’re taking partial credit score.
Can we make it three for 3? Listed below are the main candidates — all of them Japanese, naturally — to take probably the most distinguished position in Friday’s opening ceremony.
He’s probably the most revered athlete in Japan, holder of the world file for house runs at 868. His arrival would electrify followers and maybe transcend the somber feeling of an empty stadium due to pandemic restrictions. However he by no means participated in an Olympics, and that might appear to be disqualifying.
9. Hideki Matsuyama
This yr’s Masters winner is definitely performing some low-key campaigning for the job. “What an honor that might be,” he mentioned. An lively athlete will not be usually chosen, however Cathy Freeman of Australia did gentle the caldron in Sydney in 2000, then went on to win the 400 meters every week later
8. Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi
Takahashi and Noguchi gained Japan’s first girls’s marathon golds again to again in 2000 and 2004, memorable feats in a rustic the place long-distance operating could be very well-liked. One, or in what can be a pleasant contact, each, may gentle the caldron.
7. Naomi Osaka
One of many greatest names in Japanese sports activities proper now, Osaka plans to take part within the tennis competitors and would add star energy to the opening ceremony. As soon as once more, although, as an lively athlete she has custom in opposition to her.
6. The 2008 softball group
This squad shocked the favored United States within the final Olympic softball match till this yr. There may be priority for a complete group to gentle the caldron: The 1980 U.S. hockey group did so in Salt Lake Metropolis in 2002. If you wish to decide only one participant from that group, the blazing quick pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who continues to be pitching at age 39, can be a possible candidate.
5. Tadahiro Nomura
Judo has earned Japan 39 gold medals, probably the most of any sport. However just one judoka from wherever on this planet has gained three gold medals: Nomura, who gained further light-weight gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004.
Kitajima is usually referred to as the most effective breaststroker of all time, the winner of each breaststroke occasions in 2004 and 2008, a double-double that’s unmatched by a person or girl.
Summer season Olympics Necessities
3. A veteran gymnast
Japan has gained 31 golds in gymnastics, all by males. Any considered one of Sawao Kato (eight golds), Akinori Nakayama (six), Mitsuo Tsukahara (5), Takashi Ono (5), or all of them, may win the honour, relying on their well being (all are of their 70s or 80s).
2. Shun Fujimoto
Fujimoto gained only one gymnastics gold medal, however he did so in legendary style. He had injured his knee within the flooring train, however regardless of nice ache, he continued to compete to assist his group win the gold medal. His typically replayed painful dismount from the rings aggravated the damage even additional, however he nonetheless caught the touchdown.
1. Kaori Icho
Solely 5 athletes have ever gained the identical occasion 4 instances in any Olympic sport. Icho is the one girl to take action. She was unbeatable in wrestling from 2004 to 2016, and added 10 world championships as properly. For her achievements, she has obtained quite a few honors in her native nation. The largest of all of them could possibly be coming Friday night time.