Women’s 2011 World Cup winners to kick off Japan Olympic torch relay

The 2011 World Cup win lifted the nation only a few months after the Fukushima disaster that left 18,000 dead or missing.

Members of the Japanese football team which won the 2011 World Cup will be the first to carry the torch for the Tokyo Olympics when the relay opens on March 26, 2020.   -  AP

Japan’s 2011 Women’s World Cup-winning team will kick off the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay in Fukushima, the area devastated by a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown eight years ago.

Organisers said on Tuesday that the Olympic flame would begin the Japan leg of its journey on March 26, starting at the J-Village sports training centre in Fukushima that housed workers battling to remove radioactive waste after the nuclear crisis.

It will cross through all of Japan’s 47 prefectures on its 121-day journey, taking in landmarks such as Mount Fuji and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to the victims of the world’s first atomic bombing in 1945.

The 2011 World Cup win lifted the nation only a few months after the Fukushima disaster that left 18,000 dead or missing and rendered large portions of the country’s northeast uninhabitable.

“We were very much encouraged by your victory, and we are grateful that you are the first runners,” said Mikio Date, a member of Japanese comedy duo Sandwich Man who announced the runners.

Azusa Iwashimizu, a member of the 2011 squad, said she hoped to bring the country together again — as the Japanese rugby team did during this year’s World Cup on home soil.

“This year, the words ‘One Team’ made waves with rugby, but we were ‘One Team’ in 2011,” she told reporters.

“I look forward to showing our efforts again as the original ‘One Team,’” she added.

Organisers hope to use the Tokyo 2020 Games to showcase the Fukushima area’s recovery after the “triple disaster” that struck on March 11, 2011.

The flame lighting ceremony is scheduled to take place in Ancient Olympia, home of the ancient Games in Greece, on March 12 when a high priestess will ignite the Olympic flame using the sun’s rays and a parabolic mirror.

The Greek leg of the torch relay will then run for eight days before the flame is handed to Tokyo 2020 in Athens on March 19.