Read Here First (Maybe): Who Will Light the Olympic Cauldron?

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TOKYO — Lighting the Olympic cauldron is one of the highest honors in sport, even at a Game that has been a little off-putting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Big names like Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali have done it, but there’s also an unknown archer and a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

So guessing who will do it at this year’s opening ceremony on Friday must be a nearly impossible task, right? Think hard, The New York Times right guess In 2016, Vanderlei, a marathon bronze medalist, said de Lima would receive the honor. In 2012, a group of unknown teenagers was chosen to light the cauldron, but our choice rower Steven Redgrave He was the last famous athlete to hold the torch, so we take partial credit.

Can we do three out of three? Here are the leading nominees to take the lead role at Friday’s opening ceremony – all Japanese, naturally.

He is the most respected athlete in Japan and holds the world record for home runs with 868. His arrival will excite fans and perhaps surpass the dreary feeling of an empty stadium due to pandemic restrictions. But he never participated in the Olympics and that looks like a disqualification.

This year’s Masters winner actually does some low-key campaigns for the job. “What an honor that would be,” he said. Not normally an active athlete is chosen, but Australian Cathy Freeman lit the cauldron in Sydney in 2000, then won the 400m a week later.

Takahashi and Noguchi won back-to-back Japan’s first women’s marathon golds in 2000 and 2004, achieving memorable feats in a country where long-distance running is hugely popular. One or, with a nice touch, both could light the cauldron.

Osaka, one of the biggest names in Japanese sport right now, plans to enter the tennis competition and will add star power to the opening ceremony. Still, he has a tradition against him as an active athlete.

This squad shocked favorite USA in the last Olympic softball tournament until this year. An entire team has priority to light the cauldron: the 1980 USA hockey team did it in 2002 in Salt Lake City. If you want to pick just one player from this squad, it’s Yukiko Ueno, the blazing fast shooter who still keeps shooting. The 39-year-old could be a likely candidate.

Judo has earned Japan 39 gold medals in any sport. But only one judoka from anywhere in the world has won three gold medals: Nomura, who won the extra-lightweight gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Kitajima is often referred to as the greatest breaststroke of all time, the winner of the 2004 and 2008 breaststroke events is an unmatched double-double by either a man or a woman.

Japan has won 31 gold in gymnastics, all by men. Any of Sawao Kato (eight gold), Akinori Nakayama (six), Mitsuo Tsukahara (five), Takashi Ono (five), or all of them can earn this honor depending on their health (all in their 70s or 80s).

Fujimoto has only won one gymnastics gold medal, but he has done so in a legendary way. He injured his knee in the floor exercise, but despite the great pain he continued to compete to help his team win the gold medal. His often repeated painful descent from the rings made the injury worse, but he still remained on the descent.

Only five athletes have won the same event four times in any Olympic sport. Icho is the only woman to do this. He was unbeatable in wrestling from 2004 to 2016 and added 10 world titles. He received numerous honors in his home country for his achievements. The biggest of these may be coming on Friday night.

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