RIO DE JANEIRO -- Mashu Baker is scheduled to compete in the men's 90-kilogram judo category for Japan for the first time at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 10, with hopes of winning a gold medal to give to his mother.
Born to a Japanese mother and an American father, 21-year-old Baker, a student at Tokai University, says he wants to win a gold medal and give it to his 46-year-old mother, Yuka.
Born in Tokyo, Baker's home was close to Kodokan, the headquarters of the worldwide judo community. He became committed to judo after starting the martial art when he was a first-grader at elementary school. He asked his mother to allow him to go to a high school known as a powerhouse of judoka, and attended Tokai University Urayasu Senior High School in Chiba Prefecture.
In order to take part in team competitions during his high school days, he went from the 66-kilogram to 90-kilogram class. When he was a first year student in high school, one of his classmates dumped ketchup on his bag -- a birthday present from his mother. To relieve his frustration over this incident and others, he devoted himself to judo. He sometimes ate up to seven meals a day and did weight-training exercises. By the time he was in his last year in high school, he'd become a top-level high school judoka.
Soon after Baker began practicing judo, his mother Yuka got a divorce and raised Baker as she worked. She was fond of a book written by Shiro Kameda, who had raised the "three Kameda brothers" of boxing, and picked up hints from the book that she used to inspire her son.
Although Baker tends to attract attention because of his mixed heritage, he says, "I am strong not because I am half Japanese and half American, but because I have tried hard. That's what's made me who I am now." (By Tatsuya Kishi, Mainichi Shimbun)