Japan's Reaction to 2016 Rio Olympic Judo
Translated and Comments by Roberto Pedreira
September 3, 2016
male judokas brought home no gold medals from London in 2012 and the overall
result was the worst for Japan since Seoul in 1988. Ni-kan
declared the results
of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games a "judo resurrection" for Japan [柔道腹活]
and rejoiced that "for the
first time in history!! all male team members won medals" [史上初！！男子全階級メダル]. Japan's
men brought home two golds, one silver, and four bronze medals. The ladies
pulled their weight too, earning one gold and four bronze medals, which although better
than London, was their worst medal haul since Seoul.
not everyone was happy. In fact, those in the know expressed disappointment, not
so much at the results, as the general direction of judo. Two of the best
qualified to comment were 1992 Barcelona 71 kg gold medalist Toshihiko Koga
Inoue [井上康生], 2000 Sydney 100
kg gold medalist and currently coach
of the Japanese
contributed his thoughts to two major newspapers, the Yomiuri Shimbun [読売新聞],
and Ni-kan Sports on August 14,
2016. In the Yomiuri Shimbun, he wrote:
"It was the final match
to decide the champion of the
heavy-weight class. Honestly, it was regrettable. Because we couldn't see a
'judo' match. Riner went all out to avoid fighting. It is a
severe view but fans were expecting to see attack and defense. But they were disappointed.
However, the referee in this tournament, missed many chances to stop [someone]
from avoiding fighting. The International Judo Federation [国際柔道連盟]
recommended an 'active style of judo'
and amended the rules of shido  to
encourage that. It worked for a while. But competitors, especially foreigners have focused on a style of avoiding grips more than before. And the officials
have stood by and let them get away with it. Now I am very worried about
where judo is headed. Riner's previous powerful strength [力強さ]
absolutely not in evidence. If Riner had come to grips, Harasawa
would have had a good chance. The 'upside' [収穫]
was that he pushed Riner to the limit on the Big Stage [Olympic
The Japanese Men's heavy weight continued to have trouble and
perform up to his past standard
but it was enough to win the title.
members of the Japanese Men's Team (seven judokas, all weight classes) entered the
winner's circle. Five of the seven female judokas also won medals. We can't avoid
noticing that there were problems nevertheless a lot of (Japanese) judokas won medals.
It is necessary to think about what to do to change the bronze medals into gold
medals next time."
Ni-Kan Sports, Koga wrote:
final match was a lamentable contest. Harasawa, from the first match, coolly
came to grips with his opponent and calmly took care of business. But Riner was
not as strong as he had been before, and instead of going for a technique, he
fell to the level of winning by not engaging and looking for a victory by shido.
Riner's level had dropped so much that I was excited because I thought Harasawa
had a small chance [隙].
But the match was uninteresting because Riner pulled his gi
away when Harasawa tried to grab it. That is the first thing he was thinking
about. Then when he got the lead in shido , he only tried to avoid
gripping. Using the amended rule, his intention was to avoid
throwing. In the most watched match of the games (the over 100 kg final), what
we could see was a match without any techniques. Interest in judo will dissipate
this trend continues. It was criticized that judo is regressing to the past time
when judo was boring to watch. We need to return to the original judo ideal [原点]
of "hold and throw" [持って投げる].
For that to happen we have to break
away from the trend of trying to win by shidos."
Inoue assessed the team's performance in Ni-kan Sports.
Inoue praised the team collectively
and individually, focusing on
the positive, with a forward-looking view to 2020. The males ranged in age from 21
Baker, 90 kg) to 26 (海老沼匡,
Masashi Ebinuma, 66 kg). Most are young enough to have a good shot at representing
Japan in Tokyo 2020. Inoue's only reference to Teddy Riner was "原沢久喜。。。絶対王者のりネールを逃げさせる"
champion Riner totally ran away from Hisayoshi Harasawa"].
An unnamed editorialist in Ni-Kan Sports
added the following opinion:
Harasawa was strong. Riner
won seven world judo titles and now has two Olympic titles too. Until
yesterday the French men's and women's judo teams had no gold medals. The
team's star had to win to salvage something for French judo. Both men sought
sleeve and collar grips but Riner took the initiative and a made Harasawa look
non-combative. Riner received one shido, Harasawa received two shidos.
At the end, with a one shido
advantage, Riner kept a defensive posture, and in return he was jeered by the spectators.
'I wanted to win by Ippon. Harasawa
Riner said, admitting Harawasa's
Does he intend to go for
a third gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? 'I don't know yet. If I do, I want to win.' he
also commented disapprovingly on Riner's decision to go for winning rather than
beautiful, authentic, skillful judo, saying 'Riner seemed tired and
couldn't attack' ['疲労見えた王者攻め切れなかった'].
assessed his own performance in the following terms:
"I felt that
my opponent was out of breathe, but I couldn't
apply any technique. My opponent dominated the gripping.
I lost by a difference of one shido. If I could have gotten my grips, things might have been different."
competitors want to win as much as foreigners do (possibly more, according to at
least one study). While it is true that they (and Japanese fans) prefer dramatic
throws, it is also true that they believe (probably correctly, especially in the
case of Riner vs Harasawa) that some of their rivals excessively try to exploit
the minor points and penalties rules to avoid higher risk confrontations, where
the Japanese seem to have a comparative advantage (or at least, again with
reference to Riner vs Harasawa) where they believe that their chances of
winning are better by trying to lure the Japanese into accumulating more minor
penalties than by taking grips and going for what the Japanese consider
'authentic, skillful judo'.
Koga clearly resented Riner for doing that. Inoue seemed more
accepting. After all, he is an active coach and winning is the priority. The
final medal count is what everyone remembers. Looking
good is a bonus, if circumstances allow. Inoue understands Riner's motivations
(obviously, Koga does too, but Inoue is the team coach).
An Olympic gold medal match is not just another match. A lot rides on it--money,
careers, endorsements. As a Japanese proverb puts it '人の噂も７５日'
['people remember rumors for 75 days']. Two and a half
months from now, Teddy Riner will be a two-time Olympic gold medalist and no one will
remember or care that he accomplished it by running away from a young Japanese
boy with no international titles to speak of.
isn't really Riner's fault. His job is to win according to the rules. The
fault is the IJF's. They make the rules. Unfortunately, as history has
shown, competitors will usually (or almost always) try to use the rules to
win the match, rather than to demonstrate 'authentic, skillful judo'. That's
not what Kano wanted. In fact, it isn't what the IJF wants either. What the
IJF wants is fan-friendly judo, something as close to professional wrestling
as it can get and still call itself judo. The IJF wants what the television
companies and sponsors want, and what they want is what the mass of television
viewers want, which is lively, comprehensible action.
has his silver medal and the satisfaction of knowing that he at least tried
to play 'authentic, skillful judo' (he also did it while staying
calm and cool, which Koga, Inoue, the Japanese fans and press liked). He
fell a tad short, but then, he was facing a man with seven world titles and
an Olympic gold medal (now two of them). Harasawa will undoubtedly have
another chance in 2020 and he'll be looking for Teddy Riner.
1. A shido (指導)
is the smallest of the negative points (i.e., penalties). If the score is
otherwise equal, the man with the fewest shidos will be declared the
2. Because Harasawa
was penalized two shidos to Riner's one shido.
3. Two comments by Trevor Leggett, the
first from "Judo and Display
Professionalism", written in 1957
when international judo
was just getting underway at the time). and reprinted in Bulletin
of the Kano Society, 1:1, September 2000, p. 3.
on display professionalism have to
cater for a public who know and
care nothing for the sport except as
an entertainment. Doubtless some
performers and promoters try to
educate them but in the end they
are absolutely at the mercy of the
public’s tastes and whims. In Judo,
on the contrary, the sport is entirely
supported by its own enthusiasts
and quite independent of what the
general uninformed public thinks or
didn't anticipate what was to come. Later, in an undated article "The Future of Budo?", in
the next issue of the same journal (1:2,
December 2000, (a reference in the article to "sitting at a computer"
suggests it was written sometime in the late 1908's
or 1990's), he wrote:
has no future as such, because its typical representatives have now become
mere games. Like many games, they have dropped away from the ideal of
training into the aim of winning, often as professionals entertaining a
That's where judo is
today, in 2016. As we almost learned four years ago, judo's place in the
Olympics is not assured. The Olympics belongs to the IOC, and the IOC is very
interested in viewer ratings because that is what television companies care
about, which they do because that is what sponsors care about. Viewers don't
want to watch boring contests that they can't understand. Sponsors won't pay television
companies to broadcast events that viewers
(most of whom aren't judokas and don't care about judo) don't watch. Television companies
won't pay the IOC money for broadcast rights. National Organizing Committees and sports federations
(like the IJF) get a
share. Everyone wants the money. 'Authentic , skillful judo' seems to be the
least thing on anyone's minds.
Concerning Olympic commercialism and its effect on IJF's
policies and rule making initiatives, see:
Barney, R. K., Wenn, S. R., & Martyn, S. G. (2002). The International
Olympic Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism. Salt Lake City,
UT: University of Utah Press.
Sato, Shohei. (2013). The sportification of judo: global convergence and
evolution. Journal of Global History, 8(02), 299-317.
Wenn, S. R. (1993). Lights! Camera! Little Action: Television, Avery
Brundage and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Sporting Traditions, 10(1),
Wenn, S. R. (1998). A turning point for IOC television policy: US television
rights negotiations and the 1980 Lake Placid and Moscow Olympic festivals. Journal
of Sport History, 25(1), 87-118.
Villamón, M., Brown, D., Espartero, J., & Gutiérrez, C.
(2004). Reflexive Modernization and the Disembedding of Jūdō
from 1946 to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. International Review for the
Sociology of Sport, 39(2), 139-156.
(c) 2016, Roberto
Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Updated July 26, 2021.
to veteran MMA translator Yoko Kondo [近藤洋子]
for checking the translations and suggesting some improvements. Her translations
of interviews with Helio Gracie, Sakuraba, Rickson Gracie, Caol Uno, and many
more can be found here].
GTR judo articles:
Training in Fujisawa, Japan
Jiu-Jitsu vs. Japanese Judo
Jiu-Jitsu vs. Japanese Judo