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Japan's men's judoka win medals in all divisions for first time since 1964

Hisayoshi Harasawa goes on the offensive against France's Teddy Riner in the men's over 100-kilogram judo, at the Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 12, 2016. (Mainichi Photo/Masahiro Ogawa)
Hisayoshi Harasawa, right, is seen after winning the silver medal in the men's over 100-kilogram judo, in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 12, 2016. (Mainichi Photo/Daisuke Wada)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Japan's Hisayoshi Harasawa won the silver medal in the men's over 100-kilogram class judo, as Japan's athletes in men's judo took medals in all the weight divisions for the first time since the 1964 Olympics.

Harasawa was the last of Japan's male judoka to compete in this Olympics. The final medal count for Japan's men's judo was two golds, one silver and four bronzes. While there have been seven weight divisions in Olympic judo since the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the last time Japan took medals in all divisions, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, judo had just been introduced and there were only four weight classes.

"They have become seven athletes who carved their names in history. I am proud of them," said a tearful Kosei Inoue, head coach of Japan's men's judo team.

This Olympic journey began from a position of humiliation. At the previous Olympics in London four years ago, Japanese men's judoka left without any gold medals for the first time in any Olympics since judo became an event, only winning two silvers and two bronzes. Harasawa says he remembers well the scene on television when in the final, over 100-kilogram match, Japan's representative lost in the second round and then-head coach Shinichi Shinohara, watching from the stands, hung his neck in disappointment. Other than Masashi Ebinuma, who won bronze in the 66-kilogram class for the second Olympics in a row this time, the other six competitors were all Olympic first timers, but they carried with them the desire to avenge what had happened four years ago.

Inoue, who was a coach for Japan's judoka for the London Olympics, was made into head coach in November 2012. Believing that only judo competitors who could adapt could survive in this sport, he moved forward with training reforms. After retiring as a competitor himself, Inoue went to study coaching in the United Kingdom. While there, he felt that together with its spread around the world, the level of world judo had clearly risen. To overcome the difference in physical strength that had undone Japan at the London Games, he introduced a body-building specialist among the judo coaches to build the athletes' muscles.

He also encouraged thorough competition among the Japanese athletes, believing that without this they would not win. He sent Ryunosuke Haga, who won bronze at Rio and earned Japan its first medal in the 100-kilogram class in 16 years, to Mongolia to train as part of his efforts to show his athletes the difference between their good training environment and that of foreign judoka, and the hunger of those foreign competitors.

The 12 medals obtained by the Japanese judo competitors in this Olympics were more than in any previous Games, surpassing the 10 of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics. (By Tomoshige Fujino, Mainichi Shimbun)

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