JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- Rio Olympic champion Shohei Ono has rebooted his quest to defend his Olympic judo 73-kilogram title at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an 11-minute sudden death final victory at the Asian Games on Thursday helping his cause.
Despite many attempts to floor his South Korean two-time world bronze medalist opponent An Chang Rim, it was Ono's signature leg sweep technique that eventually gave him the waza-ari win for his first Asian Games gold.
"I knew that if I backed down even once, the road to the Tokyo Olympics would be cut off, so I fought with an unbending, strong determination," said Ono.
The champion judoka has taken time out of competition since his Rio success, skipping all domestic and overseas qualifiers for the worlds to prioritize his studies at the graduate school of Tenri University.
It was only in February this year that he claimed his first victory at an overseas tournament since winning his Olympic gold, at the Grand Slam in Dusseldorf, and he has not secured a spot on the Japan team for the World Championships in September in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"It may come as no surprise that I became the Asian champion by taking gold here, but I am genuinely happy about it because I had never won it (before)," the 2013 and 2015 world champion said. "It's every four years and you don't always have the chance to take part."
The 26-year-old said that winning the title is also significant as it came by fighting off mounting pressure.
"Everyone thought it was an easy win for me here. But in the men's 60 kg and 66 kg, my teammates could not do it."
On Wednesday, Toru Shishime and Joshiro Maruyama left with silvers in the men's 60 kg and 66 kg, respectively.
"The win, which came amid so much pressure...shows I am becoming a man of experience and skill," he said.
When asked how ready he is for the Tokyo Games, Ono said, "I can't say. I am different day by day, bout by bout. But, through today's final, I have discovered, frustratingly, that there are many aspects I still need to work on."