sport news OLIVER HOLT: In a Games beset by loss and adversity, Naomi Osaka may prove to ...

sport news OLIVER HOLT: In a Games beset by loss and adversity, Naomi Osaka may prove to ...
sport news OLIVER HOLT: In a Games beset by loss and adversity, Naomi Osaka may prove to ...

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Opening Ceremony was an assault on the senses. It was breathtakingly lavish and meticulously choreographed. 

Armies of acrobats lined up in their battalions on the stadium floor of the Bird's Nest, gymnasts scaled its rafters and row after row after row of drummers drummed out the message that this was the dawning of the Chinese century.

That was a time when the world still recognised what certainty was, but that time has gone. Certainty has been replaced by uncertainty and by fear. And perhaps most of all, it has been replaced by a sense of species vulnerability. 

Tennis star Naomi Osaka is the perfect athlete to be the face of these Olympic Games

Tennis star Naomi Osaka is the perfect athlete to be the face of these Olympic Games

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A ping from a Covid app is the soundtrack of our lives now. Opening Ceremony big-show themes like triumphalism and vainglory are dead.

And so on Friday night, when athletes marched into Tokyo's elegant Olympic Stadium, some of them marched straight back out again rather than hang around for the lighting of the flame. The brotherhood of the Olympics is one thing, but Olympians catch coronavirus, too. Other athletes waved to spectators who weren't there as if the gesture were a muscle-memory they could not shake.

It was about creating an alternative reality. If television viewers thought spectators were there, they were there. This is a time when athletes applaud ghosts in empty seats and broadcasters replace the silence of unattended sporting events with the fake noise of recorded cheers. Because the silence makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us.

This Opening Ceremony did not pretend that the world had not changed and it was better for that. It was pitched perfectly for a delayed Games that was full of regrets before it even started. Some competitors like the British shooter, Amber Hill, didn't even make it to Tokyo because of Covid. Their absence hung heavily in the stadium, too.

In many ways Osaka represents the uncertainty, melancholy and the loneliness of our times

In many ways Osaka represents the uncertainty, melancholy and the loneliness of our times

Instead of triumphalism, the Opening Ceremony gave us the haunting image of a competitor running on a treadmill, picked out by a spotlight, all alone in the vastness of the floor of the arena. So many of the images of the ceremony were about solitude and melancholy rather than the usual diet of relentless attainment that we are fed at events like this. Again, it was better for it.

And at the end of this four-hour paean to uncertainty, loss and perseverance, a woman stood at the bottom of a flight of steps that led to the summit of a model of Mount Fuji. Naomi Osaka had been chosen to light the Olympic flame and as she climbed slowly up the stairs, her torch aloft, it felt as if the organisers had picked the perfect athlete to be the face of these Games.

In many ways, Osaka represents the uncertainty and the melancholy and the loneliness of our times. She does not try to project an air of invincibility or arrogance like many of her rivals. In recent months, she has been open about her battle with depression and self-worth and the anxieties that flood over her when she has to face a room of journalists who want to talk to her about the state of her game.

Her life, as she tells it, is about obligation rather than joy. Some see contradictions in her vulnerability. She withdrew from the French Open last month and missed Wimbledon because she said the thought of facing a series of post-match press conferences that might have played out to 30 or 40 journalists provoked in her 'huge waves of anxiety'.

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Osaka is a heroine for a new generation for whom she stresses it is okay to not be okay

Osaka is a heroine for a new generation for whom she stresses it is okay to not be okay

What others see as contradictions are not her contradictions, though. When she stares out at a room of journalists, it seems she sees hostility and a gathering that plays on her insecurities. When she held the

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