The Yomiuri Shimbun SOCHI—At the fabulous opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday, the Japanese delegation was led by flag bearer Ayumi Ogasawara, the mother of a 4-year-old son. The 35-year-old curler waved the Japanese national flag with panache not only for her own son looking forward to his mother’s performances at the Games, but also for other women who pursue their own careers while raising children.
Ogasawara walked slowly with a beaming smile while leading the Japanese delegation, seemingly enjoying her first Olympics in eight years.
“I was moved as I walked step by step,” Ogasawara said after playing the major role. “I hope we can move others through our performance.”
Over the past eight years, Ogasawara retired from the sport, got married and had a son before coming out of retirement. She has finally come back to the Olympics thanks to support from her husband and young son.
Ogasawara’s team competed in the last qualifying tournament in Germany in December, in which only two out of the seven participating countries could grab final berths for Sochi.
As Ogasawara was standing on the edge of gaining a berth for the Games as the skip of the team, her sister Miho Onodera came all the way to the competition venue to cheer the curler—with a letter she had been asked to deliver.
The letter was written by Ogasawara’s son, who was being taken care of at that time at his grandparents’ house in Kitami, Hokkaido.
On the letter, the son drew a picture of himself with his mother. When Ogasawara was given the letter from her sister during the round-robin competition, the curler’s face changed from that of a warrior to that of a mother.
Ogasawara said she put the picture by the bed in her hotel room during the competition for encouragement.
Before flying to the qualifying tournament, the son gave his mother an action figure of an alien character from the “Ultra Seven” Japanese classic special effects TV series. The character, which fights against the hero of the title name, is named “Gattsu,” which means “spirit.”
For Ogasawara, the action figure served as a powerful charm. She always carried it in her backpack and put it behind a scoreboard during matches. The mother motivated herself by remembering her son when she faced tough times.
After retirement following the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, Ogasawara married one of her friends from her middle and high school days. She finally returned to curling in the spring of 2011—1½ years after giving birth to her son in August 2009.
As a sister, Onodera described why Ogasawara decided to make a comeback. “Curling is a sport you can play over a long span of your life,” Onodera said. “I believe my sister wanted to show that you can play the sport even after having children, particularly for younger curlers.”
When leaving home for Sochi on Tuesday, Ogasawara said to her son: “I’ll do my best.”
Onodera said her young nephew definitely wants to be with his mother. “Nonetheless, he told his mother: ‘Do your best at the Olympics.’”
Ogasawara talked of her son when she left Japan for Sochi the following day. “His support is so inspiring,” she told reporters. “He is now old enough to understand whether I win or lose a match. It’ll be embarrassing if I come back home empty-handed.
“I hope my son will watch his mom fight with all her strength.”
Japan’s curling team will begin competing with its first game on Tuesday.