Playback Rio: DOSHO Sara overcomes weakness and never gave up

Gold medallist Sara Dosho of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's Freestyle 69kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Gold medallist Sara Dosho of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's Freestyle 69kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

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 Dosho wins gold in Freestyle Wrestling
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With less than a minute to go, DOSHO Sara strangely felt no haste. She had sworn to herself never to give up until the very last moment. She was trailing in her bout against Natalia VOROBEVA, the women’s 72kg champion at the London 2012 Games, but still believed that there would definitely be a chance to turn things around.

Then came the moment. Lagging behind at 0‒2, with only 40 seconds left, Dosho attempted a tackle, which was unsuccessful, almost allowing Vorobeva the opportunity to attack from behind. She was able to prevent this with quick moves, gripping the opponent’s left leg when she lost balance. This earned her two massive points.

When the points are even, the winner is decided based on the tiebreaker criteria. Dosho had managed to gain the upper hand when only 30 seconds remained, which put her ahead according to the tiebreaker criteria. Her Russian rival tried to fight back, but Dosho somehow persevered, ultimately capturing her first crown.

Dosho had a good reason for having been able to keep her cool despite being disadvantaged.

“Before my own match, I saw ICHO Kaori and TOSAKA Eri, my teammates, fight to the very last moment to win their gold medals, so I was determined to emulate them and never to give up until the very last second,” she said.

On the day of Dosho’s match, the women’s 48kg and 58kg finals were also being held. Both Tosaka and Icho were able to gain victory in these events by earning decisive points during their final moments. These senior teammates, which Dosho held in high regard, had set examples by persevering to the very end.

Natalia Vorobeva of Russia (red) competes against Sara Dosho of Japan during the Women's Freestyle 69kg Gold Medal bout at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Natalia Vorobeva of Russia (red) competes against Sara Dosho of Japan during the Women's Freestyle 69kg Gold Medal bout at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Up until then, Dosho had slightly lacked the dogged determination to win. Despite displaying overwhelming strength in domestic matches, she would fall one step short of reaching the top on the world stage. At the World Championships in 2014, she failed to prevent her opponent from reversing the match in the last 20 seconds, settling for a silver medal.

Tosaka, who trains with Dosho, pointed out to her that her training method lacked rigorous pursuit. For example, in her push-ups, she was not bending her elbows enough. In fact, it was such small details as these that became the decisive elements in match-ups against world-class opponents. A wrestler’s training programme is reflected in their matches. Realising that she would never make it to the top unless she stopped being easy on herself, Dosho transformed her style of training.

Her untiring efforts blossomed at the Olympic Games finals.

Speaking about what she thought contributed to her victory, Dosho said, “I wanted to win the gold medal more than my opponent did,” and added, with a big smile, “I’m really happy. I owe my gold medal to all the people who rallied and supported me.”

Dosho became the first Japanese gold medallist in heavyweight female wrestling. The young 21-year-old wrestler was able to add her own name to the illustrious history of Japanese wrestling.