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117-year-old woman set to carry Olympic torch ahead of Tokyo Games

Japan's Kane Tanaka will be 118 years old when she takes part in the Olympic torch relay in May

Photo by: Guinness World Records

Kane Tanaka, the world’s oldest person, will take part in the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Tokyo Games, according to a report in the Japanese newspaper the Mainichi Shimbun. At 117, Tanaka is officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest person alive. She was already scheduled to carry the torch in the 2020 relay, but those plans were put on hold when the Games were postponed due to COVID-19. Tanaka’s new date to carry the Olympic flame is set for May 11, by which time she will be 118 years, 129 days old. 

Tanaka was born in Fukuoka, Japan, on January 2, 1903, just seven years after the first modern Olympics in Athens. Now, more than a century later, she is ready to play a role in the 2021 Olympics. At her care home in Fukuoka, Tanaka will be pushed in a wheelchair for 200m as she carries the Olympic flame. She was added to the relay lineup when Nippon Life Insurance Co., a Japanese company that has sponsored the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics, suggested it to organizers. The Nippon team said they “wanted her to send a positive message about this time of long-living.” Tanaka’s 61-year-old grandson accepted on behalf of his grandmother, saying his family wants “people to see Kane happily carrying the Olympic flame.”

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The Mainichi Shimbun report says Tanaka is in good shape, but notes that the plans may be cancelled if she isn’t feeling well on the day of the relay. Because of this, the torch relay is going to be a surprise event for Tanaka, who has not been informed of the plans. “When we were first approached about her doing it, we worried what might happen given her age, but we were getting worked up over nothing,” her grandson told the Mainichi Shimbun. “We’ll be happy if the people who see her holding the torch up and looking well can think, ‘There’s hope in going on living.'”

The last time the Olympics were held in Tokyo (which was in 1964), Tanaka was 61, as old as her grandson is now and almost half her current age. In her lifetime, she has lived through a total of 49 Olympics (both summer and winter editions), and the 2021 Games will be the 50th. 

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