Kane Tanaka, who has twice survived cancer, has seen two global pandemics, and loves carbonated drinks, will take off the flame as she walks through Shime in her home Fukuoka Prefecture.
While Tanaka’s family pushes her into a wheelchair for most of her 100-yard leg, the super-centenarian – a person over 110 – is determined to take the last few steps as she passes the torch to the nearest runner.
CNN spoke exclusively to Tanaka, who has a new pair of trainers for the event – a gift from her family on her birthday in January.
“It is great that she has reached this age and can still lead an active lifestyle. We want other people to see this and feel inspired and not believe that old age is an obstacle,” said her grandson, Eiji Tanaka, in his mid 60’s.
Previous record holders for the oldest Olympic torch bearers include Aida Gemanque from Brazil, who lit the torch at the 2016 Rio Summer Games at the age of 106, and table tennis player Alexander Kaptarenko, who ran the torch at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games at the age of 101 .
The life of a supercentury
Tanaka was born in 1903 – The year in which the aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright made history with the world’s first powered flight.
She had four children with the rice shop owner, whom she married when she was 19, and worked in the family business until she was 103. She has five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
She lived through two world wars and the 1918 Spanish flu, even though her grandson Eiji said, “I don’t remember talking much about the past … She’s very forward-thinking – she really likes to live in the present.”
And it’s almost as old as the modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896. When the Olympic Games were last held in Tokyo in 1964, Tanaka was 61 years old. If you count both the summer and winter editions of the Games, this year’s Olympics will be the 49th of a lifetime. Tanaka now lives in a nursing home where she usually wakes up at 6 a.m. and enjoys playing the strategic board game Othello. Tanaka’s family, who she has not been able to visit for 18 months during the Covid-19 pandemic, said staying curious and doing math is her secret to keeping minds sharp and bodies healthy.
Tanaka is by no means Japan’s only centenarian.
According to the country’s health, labor and social welfare ministries, Japan recorded more than 80,000 centenarians for the first time last year – the 50th consecutive annual increase. In 2020, one in 1,565 people in Japan was over 100 years old – more than 88% of them women.
In Japan, women have a life expectancy of 87.45 years versus 81.4 years for men, government figures from July 2020 showed.
In 2019, Tanaka was certified in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living person in the world. Now she has her sights set on yet another milestone – the record for the oldest person to ever live is held by a French woman who died at the age of 122.
“(Kane) said she wanted to break that record,” said Eiji Tanaka, her grandson.
Tanaka’s family said they had not trained for the torch relay but are happy to be part of the Olympics.
“She has always loved festivals,” said Eiji Tanaka.
But he warned her about her participation in May – which is sponsored from a Japanese life insurance company – will depend on their health and weather conditions.
The Tokyo 2020 pandemic delayed Olympic torch relay starts on March 25 in Fukushima Prefecture. Several countermeasures against Covid-19 have been taken, officials said last month.
The torch will initially go through regions hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku in 2011, marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster, before traveling “around every corner of Japan,” officials said.
Coronavirus restrictions include avoiding “3 Cs” – closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact settings.
Those who want to see the squadron from the roadside must wear masks, stay home if they are uncomfortable, and not travel outside of the prefecture where they live.
Viewers were also told to “support with applause … instead of shouting or cheering”. The relay is broadcast live online.
Torchbearers are required to complete a daily health checklist two weeks prior to the season and not engage in activities that pose a risk of infection, such as walking around. B. Eating out or going to crowded places.
Tanaka’s great granddaughter Junko Tanaka set up a Twitter account in January 2020 to celebrate the life of the supercentury.
She tweets photos of her great grandmother enjoying treats like cake and lemonade, and shares her successes and exchanges with her relatives.
“I started a Twitter feed about her because it’s pretty amazing that when she was 118 she was drinking Coca-Cola and playing Othello,” said Junko Tanaka. “I may be biased because I’m related to her, but I find it kind of amazing – I wanted to share that with the world and make people feel inspired and feel their joy.”