How ONO Shohei embodied the virtues of Japanese judo and became the world’s best

Japan won a total of 41 medals (12 gold, 8 silver, and 21 bronze) at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, but what thoughts crossed the minds of Japanese athletes as they appeared on the biggest stage of them all? In this series, we look back at the incredible events from Brazil that are still fresh in the collective memory of the next host country.

Ippon and gold for Ono in Men's Judo -73kg
01:40

It was simply a masterful performance. ONO Shohei claimed the 73kg crown after showcasing his overwhelming strength in spirit, technique and body. He brought joy to the Japanese men’s judo team for the first time in eight years after they surprisingly failed to win any gold medals at the previous Olympic Games in London 2012.

Ono, who commented, "I was able to approach the match with the same calmness and boldness as usual," achieved ippon victories in four of his matches excluding the quarter-final. He also showed off a wide range of finishing techniques, including yoko-shiho-gatame (side four-corner hold), uchi-mata (inner-thigh reaping throw), tomoe-nage (circular throw) and ko-uchi-makikomi (minor inner winding throw). With his technique of gripping, throwing and winning by ippon, Ono truly embodied Japanese judo.

"In Japanese judo, people tend to focus on the heavyweight classes, which was sometimes frustrating for me. I wanted to prove that a lightweight judoka like me could fight with a decisive, dynamic, strong and beautiful style of judo."

What Ono wanted to showcase was not only his judo prowess. The manner in which he conducted himself as a judoka was also truly fitting for a champion. The moment he achieved his victory, Ono silently made a bow towards his opponent and left the mat without expressing joy. "Judo is an interpersonal competition," he said, "so I wanted to show respect to my opponent. I believe I was able to remain calm and perform a respectful bow. It was a moment where I could show the Japanese spirit, so I was able to contain my feelings."

When accomplishing something that you’ve worked so hard for, it is natural for any person to express their joy. However, where there is a winner, there will also be a loser. The defeated opponent has also expended a great deal of effort to reach this point. Not expressing his emotions is a deep-rooted virtue that allows Ono to show respect towards his opponents.

However, following the medal ceremony, perhaps because he had finally let his guard down, tears swelled in his eyes after seeing INOUE Kosei, coach of the men’s national team, and ANAI Takamasa, a coach at his alma mater Tenri University. "I started crying after thinking about everything I had been through. It was a long journey to get here, but it feels like time flew by," he added, showing off a different side of the normally stoic judoka.

Since winning at the World Judo Championships for the first time in 2013, Ono had aimed to defeat all opponents with his spirit, technique and physical strength, and establish a sweeping dominance over them. What Ono proved in Rio was not only his overwhelming strength as an athlete, but also as a judoka. "I need to continue growing as a person that is worthy of being a gold medallist. My aim is to become the best and strongest judoka I can possibly be, and to become an athlete that children can look up to."

Even after reaching the top, his journey still continues to become a one-of-a-kind existence to remain the strongest and best judoka in the world.