In her Olympic debut, Akira Sone clinched the gold medal at Nippon Budokan on Friday, July 30 against Cuba’s Idalys Ortiz, the No. 1-ranked woman in the world in the over-78 kg category.
At just 21 years old, the young woman from Fukuoka scored Japan’s first gold medal in the category since Maki Tsukada won at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Tsukada is currently one of the coaches for Japan’s national women’s judo team.
Sone also added to Japan’s gold-medal haul in judo, bringing in Japan’s ninth, tying the record achieved in Athens in 2004 and in Tokyo in 1964.
In the match, Sone aggressively kept the pressure on the 31-year-old veteran Ortiz, but was unable to score a point. In the end, she won the top spot as Olympic champion in overtime, when Ortiz’s defensive behavior earned the Cuban champion a third penalty for non-combativity. Before reaching the finals, Sone had won all three of her earlier matches by ippon.
Choking back tears, Sone commented on her victory: “For this Olympics I trained very hard, so the fact that I was able to show it at the Games, is something I am really happy about. All the hard work was worth it.”
Sone started training in judo when she was a middle-school student, and was crowned a junior world champion in Zagreb in 2017. “I am full of gratitude that, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to have these Olympics.” commented Sone following the match.
Ortiz was a tough opponent for Sone. Olympic champion in London in 2012, silver medalist in Rio in 2016 and bronze medalist in Beijing in 2008, the Cuban judoka was aiming to win her second gold. Ortiz had prevailed against the then-teenage Sone at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo in 2019.
Harasawa Fights Archrival Riner, Misses Out on Bronze
Earlier in the day in the men’s over-100 kg category, Hisayoshi Harasawa lost his bid for the top spot on the podium by conceding to Czech Republic’s Lukas Krpalek in the semifinals.
Fighting for the bronze, Harasawa also came out short against his archrival, two-time consecutive Olympic champion Teddy Riner. While Riner took home the bronze, the 32 year-old veteran French athlete missed his bid for a third gold medal by losing to the Russian Olympic Committee’s Tamerlan Bashaev. Tadahiro Nomura of Japan holds the Olympic record of three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games.
In the over-100 kg match, in a reverse reflection of the match between Sone and Ortiz, Riner prevailed when three penalties were given to Harasawa for passivity.
Harasawa, a native of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, had previously come up against Riner in the final at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
“I am here thanks to the guidance and help of many people,” he said. “I did what I could in my own way.”
Author: Arielle Busetto