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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008


Japan's judoka should be saluted

BEIJING — Every four years there are great expectations for Japan's judoka at the Summer Olympics.

Japan's men and women judoka brought home eight gold medals and two silvers from the 2004 Summer Games. It was an extraordinary achievement.

Japan was unable to replicate its success from Athens in the Beijing Games, receiving two men's golds and two women's golds. Japan's women also earned a silver and two bronze medals.

This was a respectable showing in a sport that has made great strides around the world. Parity is now expected. Single nations are not expected to dominate the competitions.

Just don't tell that to Japan men's judo coach Hitoshi Saito. He expects his charges to capture gold in each and every event.

"I have to bear the responsibility and I think that I should slit my belly to apologize," Saito said in an interview with Yangtze Evening News.

What a despicable statement.

It's OK to be disappointed. It shows that a coach or athlete cares about winning. But to inflict personal injury on oneself for athletic results that produce anything less than perfection sends the wrong message.

Saito should've chosen his words more carefully. He should've thought about the fact that suicide is a deeply rooted problem in Japanese society and said something quite different.

By suggesting that cutting his stomach is an appropriate action after his judoka won "only" two gold medals demonstrates how out of touch Saito is with the concepts of winning, losing and fair play.

If, in fact, those comments are accurate, Saito should be publicly reprimanded by Japan's top judo officials and be required to make a formal apology.

On a more upbeat note, let's review the accomplishments of Japan's judoka in Beijing.

Masato Uchishiba, Japan's first gold medalist of the Beijing Games, was the top men's judoka at 66 kg. Heavyweight Satoshi Ishii won the gold in his division, repeating the performance by Keiji Suzuki in Athens.

On the women's side, Masae Ueno grabbed the gold in the women's 70-kg division, and Ayumi Tanimoto was the 63-kg victor. Maki Tsuka earned the silver in the over-78-kg division. Teenager Misato Nakamura picked up a bronze at 52 kg.

Five-time Olympian Ryoko Tani ended her string of two straight titles, but walked off with the bronze at 48 kg.

As of Monday morning, Japan had earned 20 Olympic medals, and seven of them came from judoka.

Japan's judoka deserve a well-earned round of applause for their stellar accomplishments. Anything less would be inappropriate.

* * * * *

Olympic hero Saori Yoshida, the two-time defending women's freestyle wrestling champion at 55 kg, will be Japan's poster woman for the 2012 London Olympics.

Yoshida has already vowed she will seek her third Olympic title in four years. She's still only 25, so a third gold is certainly not out of the question.

The Japanese media hype machine will follow Yoshida's every move. You'll soon learn every detail about her private life, including what she regularly eats for breakfast.

In retrospect, the best thing to happen to Yoshida before the Olympics was having her 119-match winning streak end in January. It proved to everyone, especially herself, that she's not invincible.

The streak-snapping loss helped Yoshida improve her overall techniques, train at a more intense level and come to appreciate her past successes and remember that failure is possible if she isn't performing at her best.

* * * * *

Ever wonder what the true essence of the Olympics is for a four-time gold medalist?

Kosuke Kitajma can explain it effectively.

"The Olympic Games has the special power of creating heroes and creating dreams for children," said Kitajima, a double gold medalist in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events in the past two Olympiads. "I wish that this special power touches children in Japan and around the world."

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