By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Members of the Japan team who won the 2011 women’s soccer World Cup will start the Japan leg of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay, organizers said on Tuesday.
More details of the route were revealed along with the approximately 10,000 people who will carry the Olympic flame as it tours all Japan’s 47 prefectures ahead of the Games opening ceremony in July.
The ‘Nadeshiko’ hold a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people because their World Cup victory in Germany came months after the devastating 2011 tsunami and earthquake.
With Tokyo 2020 billed by organizers as the “reconstruction Olympics”, and the torch relay starting in Fukushima, the selection of coach Norio Sasaki and his players to begin the relay on March 26 came as little surprise.
“In the very beginning, when I heard I would be the first runner and torch bearer I was very, very surprised,” said forward Kozue Ando who plays for Urawa Reds.
“But being with all the other World Cup-winning members, we will be able to do something together so I am looking forward to it.”
Defender Azusa Iwashimizu, another Nadeshiko star, is expecting to give birth in March but hopes she will be able to take her new child on the relay.
“I would like to run carrying my baby,” she said.
The relay is due to pass many of Japan’s most iconic landmarks over the 121-day journey, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.
The Olympic flame is scheduled to be lit, as per tradition, in Greece on March 12 before arriving in Japan, at Matsushima Airbase in Miyagi prefecture, on March 20.
After a five-day tour of the areas most affected by the 2011 disaster, the torch relay will begin from the J-Village in Fukushima.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)