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.
Women’s freestyle wrestling 48kg weight class final
TOSAKA Eri (Japan)
Mariya STADNIK (Azerbaijan)
With 25 seconds left in the second period, TOSAKA Eri was trailing 1-2.
The Japanese wrestler was staring defeat in the face. Her opponent Mariya Stadnik, a silver medallist at the Olympic Games London 2012, seemed exhausted, but she only had to hold on to her lead to claim gold. For a split second, Tosaka thought she was going to lose, but she quickly shook off any negativity and mustered up her determination to do whatever it took to win.
With 13 seconds to go, Tosaka grabbed Stadnik’s right leg in the blink of an eye.
“This is my one and only chance to turn this situation around,” the Japanese wrestler thought and lifted her desperate opponent’s leg up to bring her crashing down to the mat and gain two precious points. With only two seconds left on the clock, the bout ended in no time, allowing Tosaka to clinch the gold medal in a spectacular turnaround.
Tosaka had topped the podium at three consecutive World Wrestling Championships since 2013, but was defeated in the Asian Championships in February 2016, six months prior to Rio 2016, which put a stop to her winning streak of 59 consecutive bouts.
The loss after such a long interval made her renew her resolve to “win the gold at any price at the Olympic Games”. As one of the favourites for the gold at Rio 2016, Tosaka steadily fought through the round of 16, her first match, and the quarter-final, scoring 6-0 and 11-2 respectively. In the semi-final, she turned the tables on SUN Yanan at 8-3, taking revenge on the Chinese wrestler who had put a stop to her streak of victories at the Asian Championships.
Tosaka had a match up with Azerbaijani wrestler Stadnik at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships final, during which she had managed to gain a big point 10 seconds before the end to earn a turnaround victory at 3-2.
A year later, the showdown between the two wrestlers on the world’s greatest stage in Rio resulted in a re-enactment of the turnaround.
Lars Baron/Getty Images
“I’m overjoyed to have been able to win a gold medal at my first Olympic Games. I’m also happy to have been able to take part in the Games with my senior teammates whom I admire so much. We have been competing in practice sparring every day. My obsession with victory down to the last second brought me success,” Tosaka said.
The last-second turnaround is the outcome of Tosaka’s untiring daily training. The 22-year-old wrestler had followed in the footsteps of legendary Olympic wrestlers YOSHIDA Saori and ICHO Kaori, and had inherited their fighting spirit of never giving up especially when driven into a corner.
And Tosaka’s indomitable spirit rubbed off on other members of Japan’s wrestling team.
On the same day following Tosaka’s match, Icho and DOSHO Sara in the 58kg and 69kg weight classes respectively, also grabbed last-second victories. Their fights closely resembled that of Tosaka.
Dosho admitted that she had seen Tosaka and Icho’s bouts before her own match, which further strengthened her resolve to never to give up. Her determination never faltered even when things seemed to be going against her.
Japan’s female wrestling team clinched four gold medals at Rio 2016 and it was Tosaka who had paved the way for their winning streak. She knew that if she won her bout, her triumph would spur the others on to victory. She was able to overcome the immense pressure and demonstrate her tenacity to fulfil her role of igniting the team’s fighting spirit.