Baby named for Olympic flame, becomes Olympian

Yoshinori Sakai, the final torchbearer at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

The 1964 Summer Olympics — the first Olympics held in Asia — took place in Tokyo, Japan, from October 10 to October 24.

The 1964 Olympics showed the world that Japan had recovered from the devastation of the war and rebuilt itself as a modern, peaceful democracy after an era of military aggression.

On October 5, several days before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, the Hashimoto family of Hayakita, Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost main island) welcomed a baby girl.

Her parents, inspired by Olympics, decided to name her Seiko after the Olympic flame, seika.


The Kanji used to write the Japanese word seika are sei, meaning “holy, sacred,” and ka, meaning “fire, flame.” So the word literally means “holy flame” or “sacred flame.”

Seiko’s name uses the first element of seika, plus the kanji ko, meaning “child.”


Thanks to her name, “[s]he grew up thinking she was born to be an Olympic athlete, while learning to skate on a frozen lake on the family farm.”

She became so good at speed-skating that she was indeed chosen to represent Japan at the Winter Olympics — four times. She competed as a speed skater at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville (where she won her only medal, a bronze) and the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.

But that’s only part of the story.

Because Seiko also took up track cycling (“as part of her off-season training”). She became so good at this second sport that she was chosen to represent Japan at the Summer Olympics three times. She competed as a track cyclist at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

In total, she made seven Olympic appearances — more than any other Japanese female athlete in history.

After retiring from competition, she went into politics, and her positions were often sports-related. For instance, she was appointed president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee in early 2021. (The event had been postponed until mid-2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Seiko also had three children — each born during an Olympic year, and each given an Olympics-inspired name:

  1. Seika, a girl born in 2000 — the year the Summer Olympics were held in Sydney
  2. Girisha (“Greece”), a boy born in 2004 — the year the Summer Olympics were held in Athens
  3. Torino (“Turin”), a boy born in 2006 — the year the Winter Olympics were held in Turin

What are your thoughts on Seiko’s name and life story? (Do you think her life would have been drastically different had she not been named after the Olympic flame?)

P.S. Pictured above is Yoshinori Sakai, who ran the final leg of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic torch relay (and lit the Olympic cauldron). He was born in Hiroshima Prefecture on August 6, 1945 — the day of the atomic explosion — and “was chosen as the last torchbearer to symbolise peace.”


2 thoughts on “Baby named for Olympic flame, becomes Olympian

  1. Wow, fascinating story about a person who took their name to be their destiny. Her kids’ names are also super interesting. I love that her daughter is named after her and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Japanese people directly named after places on thr way her son’s are.

  2. I found her story was fascinating as well!

    Now that you mention it, I can’t think of any location-inspired Japanese baby names like these two off the top of my head either. Though I’m sure others exist.

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