The flame of the previous Olympics in Tokyo was lit by the “atomic boy”: torchbearer Yoshinori Sakai

On July 23, the flame of the 2020 Olympics will be lit in Tokyo.

This will be the second time for the city, and for the first time it hosted the Games in 1964-and the real symbol was the torchbearer Yoshinori Sakai, nicknamed “atomic boy”.
On August 6, 1945, at 8:15, American troops dropped a Baby atomic bomb on Hiroshima (with an explosive equivalent of 20 kilotons of TNT). Most of the city was destroyed, only 70 thousand people died immediately from the explosion, and another 60 thousand-later: from wounds, burns and radiation sickness.

On the same day, at about 9:30 (an hour and a half after the explosion), Yoshinori Sakai was born. His village was so close to the epicenter that his father saw the flash perfectly that day.

At the same time, the Western media called Yoshinori “atomic boy”, although Sakai himself never liked this nickname.

In junior school, the young man became interested in running, later he played for Waseda University. The coach wanted to make Sakai a marathon runner, but nothing came of this idea.

But in short-distance running, Sakai excelled: he won the 400-meter race at the National Sports Festival and won smaller tournaments. Later, Yoshinori had an attempt to make it to the 1964 home Olympics in Tokyo, but it did not work out with the qualification (4th place, and three got there).

Sakai was upset: “When I was training, I was only thinking about the Olympics in Tokyo. I’ve been dreaming about her since high school. And when I failed to qualify, I closed myself in, as if in a shell. I didn’t feel that I could ever add more.”

Sakai was not upset for long – it soon turned out that he would still participate in the Olympics: he was chosen as the main torchbearer.

When Yoshinori found out about this, he couldn’t believe it for a long time. His house in Miyashi was besieged by journalists, he received calls from various publications, even offered contracts. But Sakai refused.

On October 10, 19-year-old Yoshinori Sakai ran out to the National Stadium in Tokyo (the same one where the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 will be held after total reconstruction) and took the torch with the Olympic flame.

Step by step, he climbed the 182 steps to the main torch of the 1964 Games and, stretching out his right hand, lit the flame. Under Yoshinori, a sea of people in colorful uniforms spread out, and behind the athletes, Tokyo skyscrapers could be seen.

“At first, I felt the importance of the moment when the torch was handed to me at the stadium. And then I saw 72 thousand viewers, and there was a feeling of pressure. Yes, I was nervous, but not too much. I was completely focused on the task at hand.

Four gas cylinders were installed behind the boiler. Specially trained people had to open the valves at the same time. When I went to the boiler, I heard the gas hiss. And then I lit a torch.

Sakai was chosen for the most important role not by chance: the child born in Hiroshima after the explosion of the atomic bomb survived and became a symbol of the country that is being reborn after the Second World War.

Japan wanted to show the world that those terrible events were left behind, and the people are looking to a bright future. Sakai served as proof of the great hopes that the country placed on the younger generation.

“Fortunately, I don’t know anything about the war. 19 years have passed since then, I grew up in an atmosphere of care and freedom in a peaceful Japan. Please look at who I have become today, and not at who I was in the past, ” Yoshinori said.

Sakai really wanted to attend the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 with his two grandchildren, but this dream did not come true. He died on September 10, 2014 from a brain hemorrhage.

His son Atsuhiro also works in television-a producer of the TBS TV channel. 7 years ago, he made a documentary about his father’s participation in the opening ceremony of Tokyo-1964.

Atsuhiro will work at the opening of Tokyo 2020. In particular, in memory of his father – Yoshinori Sakai.

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