RIO DE JANEIRO -- Junko Hirose captured the bronze medal in the 57-kilogram division of women's judo for the visually impaired at the Rio 2016 Paralympics on Sept. 9, and credited Japan's first ever medal for women in the event to the support she receives from her husband Haruka, who is competing in the 90-kilogram division.
As soon as Hirose, 25, scored an ippon victory over Maria Monica Merenciano Herrero of Spain, she immediately rushed to her 37-year-old husband saying, ''I did it.'' The couple shared the triumph and hugged. ''I enjoy judo. I'm glad I got married (last December,)'' a beaming Hirose said.
A native of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Hirose had normal eyesight in her youth and competed in an interscholastic athletic meet while in high school. But she virtually lost her sight after a bout with collagen disease in her first year in college. She temporarily stopped judo before resuming the sport for visually impaired athletes. Her husband Haruka, a native of Matsuyama, also had regular eyesight and participated in interscholastic athletic competition. But he got glaucoma in his second year in high school and his eyesight weakened. He switched to judo for the visually impaired and competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
The couple met at an international championship in the United States in 2013. Hirose was charmed by Haruka's cheerfulness and proposed marriage in August 2015. Haruka was concerned about a marriage between two visually impaired people but decided to accept the marriage proposal after she quit her job and moved to Matsuyama.
The couple was hired by Marubeni-Itochu Steel Inc. last summer as athletes and practiced judo with high school and university students in Matsuyama. They won berths at Paralympics trials in May. Haruka acted as a practice partner and instructor for his wife. He says, ''I have a dry mouth'' whenever his wife competes in a judo meet. When Hirose lost to da Silva Teixeira Araujo Lucia of Brazil in the semifinals, she was later advised by her husband that she lost confidence amid the cheering hometown audience and failed to fully grapple with her opponent. The advice paid off, earning her the judo bronze.
Hirose also assists her husband in losing weight and practicing. When her husband does not want any particular ingredient in meals, she does not eat that either. She has also urged her reluctant husband to run to lose weight.
Hirose says she and her husband can work hard because they are together. Haruka told her before the bronze medal contest, ''It's bad if we do not win a medal. You should get a medal first. Then I can relax.'' Hirose said her husband's comment eased the pressure on her. Haruka has a judo bout on Sept. 10 and is very excited to compete in a relaxed manner. (By Taro Iiyama, Mainichi Shimbun)