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.
Japan's Mashu Baker wins the gold medal in the men's -90kg judo at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Result for men’s 90kg judo final
BAKER Mashu (Japan)
(Yusei victory, yuko, ouchi-gari)
Varlam LIPARTELIANI (Georgia)
Despite being booed by the crowd, BAKER Mashu was beaming with satisfaction. His victory is a result of adamantly pursuing his unique style and doing whatever it takes to win the gold medal.
“It would have been ideal to end the bout with a dynamic finish, but I knew very well that a gold medal differs greatly from a silver, so much so that I had to fight that way after I had scored,” he said.
The Japanese judoka, who had reached the final by winning all matches with ippon, secured a yuko (moderate advantage) with an ouchi-gari (large inner reaping throw) after two minutes.
Still halfway through the gold medal match, he kept a careful distance from his Georgian opponent without attempting any aggressive attacks. He was aware that even if he were penalised with a shido (minor penalty), he would still have an advantage in the score. The crowd booed him for being passive, but he didn’t mind, convinced that the unassertive style was an integral part of his strategy.
In Japan, where offensiveness is regarded as a virtue in judo, Baker is regarded as a new type of judoka.
At high school, he was initially in the 66kg division, but the movements and techniques he learned are equally applicable to his battles in the 90kg division. One such style is his defensive posture of bending forward. While having a strong obsession with ippon victories, he is also flexible enough to use any means necessary to win. In the final at the Rio 2016 Games, he won by scoring first and then remaining on the defence for the rest of the bout, just as planned.
“I practised hard to implement my game plan of scoring early and then defending my score until the very end. And the gold medal was the result of my efforts," Baker said.
2016 Getty Images
Baker’s motto in his judo life has been to find the best way to win and become stronger. Immediately after he was selected to represent Japan at the Rio 2016 Games, he asked TAKEUCHI Toru, who had coached him in high school, to instruct him as a special coach.
“By then, hardly anyone was giving me strict instructions. I thought Takeuchi would be frank enough to point out my weak points. I also wanted to go back to the basics of my judo before going to the Olympics,” Baker explained.
He had the special coach accompany him at training camps and matches, where he took a renewed look at his own judo.
INOUE Kosei, the men’s national team coach, had this to say about Baker’s match in the final: "His defensive style stemmed from his utter obsession with gold. Baker Mashu is truly incredible," Inoue said.
"He is the type of judoka who had been regarded as unacceptable in Japan, but by taking the gold medal, he opened up a new fascinating facet of judo. He has a unique flexibility and strength, which make it distinctively difficult for his opponents to tackle him.”
“I’ve made history, haven’t I?” the unique, new talent laughed wildly in utter elation after becoming the first judoka in Japan to win the gold in the men’s 90kg division.