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Olympics: Japan shocked by judo medal failures

01 august 2012, 15:46
0
Japan's Takahiro Nakai (white) competes with Russia's Ivan Nifontov. ©AFP
Japan's Takahiro Nakai (white) competes with Russia's Ivan Nifontov. ©AFP
Japan's judo coaches have admitted their Olympic Games team has performed below expectations after claiming just one gold medal over the first four days of competition, AFP reports.

Kaori Matsumoto's win in the under-57kg division on Monday remains their only title after eight of the 14 categories while the men have yet to claim a single gold.

Japan's tally of one gold, two silver and two bronze is far lower than they are used to achieving.

By this same stage in Beijing four years ago they had won two golds, one each for men and women, as well as two bronze.

They ended that competition with four gold, one silver and two bronze and although they topped the medals table it was considered a disaster back in Japan.

At last year's World Championships in Paris they had five gold, three silver and a bronze by this stage as they dominated the lightweight divisions.

In fact it was in those lighter divisions -- particularly the women's categories -- where they expected to dominate.

At last year's Worlds they provided both finallists in the women's under-48kg and under-52kg divisions but at the Games they failed to win a medal in either.

"It's very severe, we wanted two gold medals at least by now," said women's coach Isamu Sonoda, himself an Olympic champion in 1976 in Montreal.

"In particular we thought we could get gold medals in the under-48kg and under-52kg categories but we didn't win any medals at all."

That was particularly galling as double world under-48kg champion Haruna Asami and world under-52kg leader Yuka Nishida were left at home.

It's not as though Japan were not relying on talented fighters, though, as they brought world number one at under-48kg Tomoko Fukumi and world under-52kg champion Misato Nakamura.

The biggest risk was perhaps Matsumoto as she only won bronze in Paris last year whereas Aiko Sato took gold.

But Matsumoto is the only Japanese to have delivered gold in London.

And she recognised after her victory the importance of her medal for the team's morale.

"I was able to get gold on behalf of my colleagues Fukumi and Nakamura so I'm very happy," she said.

"There was indeed pressure but I did what I wanted to do along the way and I think that helped me to get this medal."

Japan'a coaches have been coy about their expectations, barely speaking to the press, not wishing to pile the pressure on their fighters.

Following her bronze in the under-63kg division on Tuesday, Yoshie Ueno revealed the coaches have not expressed their feelings to the fighters.

"The number of medals we have are still in the lower range but the coaches have not said anything in particular about that, and we've still got tomorrow," she said.

The situation for the men is more drastic with Hiroaki Hiraoka and Riki Nakaya winning silver in the under-60kg and under-73kg respectively and Misashi Ebinuma taking bronze at under-66kg.

Yet between them they won two golds and a silver in Paris last year.

"It's very tough, we wanted at least one gold by Monday," said men's coach Shinichi Shinohara, a heavweight silver-medallist in Sydney 12 years ago.

Founders Japan have not dropped off the summit of world judo but they have seen the competition eat into their dominance, particularly since the seven gold medals -- and five in the women's categories -- they won in Athens in 2004.

They would have to win all six remaining divisions here to match that feat this time around.

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