In first, female athlete to open Olympic torch relay

AP, Kyodo

For the first time, a woman has been chosen to launch the torch relay for the 2020 Tokyo Games at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in Greece.

Greece’s Hellenic Olympic Committee said Thursday it has picked Rio de Janeiro shooting gold medalist Anna Korakaki as the first torchbearer following the flame-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia on March 12.

The carefully choreographed ceremony is led by an actress posing as an ancient Greek priestess who lights the flame using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the heat of the sun’s rays on her torch. She will then pass it on to Korakaki, whose selection Greece’s national Olympic committee president Spyros Capralos called a “historic” moment.

After Korakaki runs the first part of the relay, she will pass the torch to Mizuki Noguchi, the winner of the women’s marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Noguchi will be the first Japanese person to carry the 2020 Olympic flame when she receives it in Olympia.

Judoka Tadahiro Nomura and wrestler Saori Yoshida, who have both won three Olympic gold medals, will also carry the torch in Greece.

Following the eight-day Greek leg, the flame will be handed over to Tokyo organizing committee officials during a ceremony at Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. The last torchbearer on the Greek leg will also be a woman — Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi, who won the pole vault gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The Olympic flame will then be transported by a special aircraft from Greece to Japan.

The torch will arrive in Japan on March 20 and its journey around the country will begin from Tohoku, which was widely affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people.

Both local organizers and the International Olympic Committee want to use the upcoming Summer Games to aid the region’s recovery, with Japanese authorities dubbing the games the “Reconstruction Olympics.”

The flame will visit all 47 prefectures in Japan over its 121-day journey.

Following its display in three Tohoku prefectures from March 20, the torch relay will formerly begin at J-Village, the national soccer training center in Fukushima that reopened last year after it was closed in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster.

The torch relay formally ends with the final runners carrying the flame into the stadium and lighting the main cauldron during the opening ceremony, which is scheduled to be held at Tokyo’s new National Stadium on July 24.

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