Playback Rio: TACHIMOTO Haruka secures long-coveted gold medal

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Haruka Tachimoto of Japan in action against Yuri Alvear of Colombia during the Women's -70kg Gold Medal bout on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Haruka Tachimoto of Japan in action against Yuri Alvear of Colombia during the Women's -70kg Gold Medal bout on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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.

Tachimoto wins Women's Judo gold
01:40

Result for Women’s 70kg Judo final

TACHIMOTO Haruka (Japan)

(Ippon gachi, awase-waza; 2:19)

Yuri ALVEAR (Colombia)

“I’m not letting her go, no matter what.” This was the only thought in TACHIMOTO Haruka’s mind as she pinned down her struggling opponent with a yoko-shiho-gatame (side four-corner hold). She waited for the seconds to tick by – 10 seconds, 15 seconds, and finally 20 seconds passed, and the glorious ippon (one full point) was scored. The instant the main referee raised his hand, Tachimoto was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.

“Memories flashed through my mind,” Tachimoto recalled. Though she had been third-seeded as one of the favourites for the gold medal at the Olympic Games London 2012 four years previously, she finished in a disappointing seventh place, unable to give her best performance.

In the months that followed, the Japanese judoka failed to achieve satisfactory results at any contest. At one tournament, she was even ready to retire if defeated.

Tachimoto was the only unseeded member of Japan’s team of male and female judoka at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and in round two found herself up against Kim Polling of the Netherlands, who was ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I should definitely be able to gain a gold medal if I can defeat her,” she told herself before the impending match.

The Dutch judoka scored a yuko (effective / moderate advantage) first, but Tachimoto caught up, and additionally gained a yuko with her signature osoto-gari (large outer reap) during the overtime period, winning by sheer persistence.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Gold medalist Haruka Tachimoto of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremeny for the Women's -70kg Judo on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Gold medalist Haruka Tachimoto of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremeny for the Women's -70kg Judo on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Tachimoto repeated the overtime victory in the quarter-final, and earned a waza-ari (a half point) with another osoto-gari in the semi-final, which resulted in a yusei-gachi (win by decision). Having overcome a series of demanding fights, she had reached the final. At this point, she knew that she had won a medal anyway, but was still adamantly pursuing ultimate victory.

“I told myself that I had to be the champion no matter what and demonstrate all that I possibly can on the world’s greatest stage,” she later revealed.

Tachimoto had a particular reason for not wanting to lose – her elder sister, Megumi. The sisters had been in friendly rivalry in judo since childhood, aiming to become Olympians together. Unfortunately, Megumi was not selected for either the London 2012 Games or the Rio 2016 Games, and was unable to fulfill her dream. Yet, when the elder sister had learned that she hadn’t made the national team, she started supporting Haruka, flying in to cheer her on at the Games.

“Megumi’s support was essential to me. She must have had mixed feelings, but she kept her emotions to herself and supported me all the way. Never before had she been so kind to me, which actually made me feel a little awkward (laughter), but her kindness motivated me to give my all,” Tachimoto said.

In the final, Tachimoto first received a shido (minor violation), but two minutes into the match, she countered Alvear’s hip throw attempt with a rear take-down, pinned the London 2012 bronze medallist down for 20 seconds, and closed out the match.

After the medal ceremony, each medallist is allowed to call one person down to the match area. Tachimoto called her sister Megumi and hung the gold medal around her neck.

With tearful eyes, Megumi told the champion, “I’m truly happy. I was moved beyond words.” Hearing her sister say these words, Tachimoto also welled up with tears.