Naomi Osaka is intent on bringing home Olympic gold to Japan: ‘I have the opportunity to make an entire generation inspired’

A blue and gold banner that reads, 'The Gold Plan'
Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Australian Open
Naomi Osaka says she’s been waiting her entire life to compete in the Olympic Games. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
  • Naomi Osaka is focused on the Tokyo Olympics after withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon.
  • Osaka told Insider that the pandemic allowed her to slow down and reevaluate her priorities.
  • The tennis star specifically spoke about her mental health, training regime, and impactful platform.
  • This article is part of our series “The Gold Plan,” which highlights Olympians and their values.

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics are extra special for Naomi Osaka – it’s not only the Japanese 23-year-old’s first games but also her homecoming.

“I have never competed in an Olympic Games before, but I can say, as an athlete, I’m excited to be competing in the most prestigious athletic event in the world,” Osaka said. “Like most competitors, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my entire life, and the fact that they are being held in my birthplace of Japan, I just feel like I can’t stop smiling about it.”

While Osaka is filled with excitement about this year’s games, she also feels immense pressure to perform.

“You have to mentally prepare for these large-scale moments, and there are a lot of pressures associated with the Olympics because your country is looking up to you,” Osaka said.

Osaka focused on her mental well-being during the pandemic

Osaka has recently spoken out about her mental health and how the scrutiny that comes with being in the spotlight as an elite athlete affects her.

While competing at the French Open in May and June, Osaka said she didn’t want to do post-match interviews because they triggered her anxiety. She added that she’s struggled with depression since 2018.

I get impatient at times and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy every moment.

Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping a press conference. She ultimately resigned from the tournament, but the decision prompted a debate of how governing sports organizations treat athletes from a mental-health perspective.

Osaka, who also withdrew from Wimbledon in June, told Insider that the pandemic allowed her to slow down and focus more on her emotional and mental well-being.

“I get impatient at times and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy every moment,” she said. “This has helped me on the court to calm my nerves and dismantle some of the pressures that come with the stage.”

Osaka said that focusing on gratitude and remembering that success isn’t built overnight help keep her humble through the ups and downs.

Osaka enjoyed having more downtime from training

Three black and white side-by-side images of Naomi Osaka
To help maintain her physical health, Osaka uses Hyperice compression massage equipment. Courtesy of Hyperice

Like all athletes, Osaka’s training regimen had to change a lot during the pandemic, and once the postponement of the Olympics was officially announced, she tried to stay positive.

“It was tough at first, but I appreciate that it would have hit some athletes harder,” she said. “In tennis, while the Olympics is the pinnacle, in my opinion, we are lucky enough to have some other big events throughout the year. While it was disappointing, I put it into perspective and realized that it was a much tougher year for so many people.”

Osaka flipped her mindset and decided to enjoy the downtime and break from endless travel between tournaments.

Osaka switches up her training regimen before each tournament

Usually, Osaka’s training is always focused on the next major tournament, and her schedule varies accordingly.

“I also have to change surfaces from hard courts to clay to grass, so all of that is a factor into my movement and on-court practice as well,” she said.

Osaka looks after her body wherever she is in the world and travels with Hyperice compression massage equipment to help her legs recover between matches. She also sees her physiotherapist regularly.

Nutrition is an important part of Osaka’s training and recovery. She doesn’t count macros or calories, but instead listens to her body.

Osaka generally has a big breakfast to fuel her morning training, a substantial lunch, and a lighter dinner.

“My favorite thing to eat is probably sushi or a Sweetgreen salad and a green tea,” she said.

Osaka wants to use her platform for positive social change

Naomi Osaka wearing a mask with Ahmaud Arbery's name at the 2020 US Open
Osaka uses her platform to denounce social injustice and promote positive change. Al Bello/Getty Images

Over recent years, Osaka has centered her passion for activism in her athleticism.

At the 2020 US Open, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests, Osaka used her public platform to highlight racial injustice.

Throughout the tournament, she wore seven face masks, each bearing the name of a Black person who had been killed by police violence or racial profiling, as Insider’s Darcy Schild reported.

“There was a lot happening in the world, and there were issues that were bigger than all of us, and I felt I needed to say something, even if it wasn’t through words,” Osaka said. “I didn’t feel that with all that I was seeing in the world around me I could just show up and play as if nothing had happened, as if lives were not unjustly taken.”

Osaka hoped the move could spark further conversations about systemic oppression.

“That was the very least I could do,” she said.

Osaka is on a mission to help younger women

Naomi Osaka serves during a match at the 2020 Australian Open
Hoping to inspire the next generation, Osaka invests in initiatives that support and encourage young athletes. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Despite having been ranked the No. 1 tennis player in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association, Osaka said her proudest moments are when she has inspired or helped younger generations.

“There have been so many moments where I look back and think about how they even happened, and I am so thankful. But through it all – even through the wins – what I find most rewarding are the moments when I can pass what I have learned and passed what inspired me to young athletes and young girls,” Osaka said.

It would honestly mean the world to me to bring home a gold in Japan.

Osaka works with Nike; has her own initiative, the Play Academy With Naomi Osaka; and has invested in the North Carolina Courage women’s soccer team – all with the aim of encouraging more girls to get into sports.

Osaka also sees winning gold at the Olympics as an opportunity to motivate young people.

“It would honestly mean the world to me to bring home a gold in Japan,” she said. “I think it would take some time to fully sink in, but to be able to win a gold on my country’s soil, knowing the youngest generation is watching – it makes me emotional to know I have the opportunity to make an entire generation inspired and an entire country proud.”