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JUDO | Japan’s First Medals: Tonaki Takes Silver for Women, Takato Follows with Gold for Men

“This achievement is thanks to the efforts of all those who have supported me until now,” said judoka Naohisa Takato after winning Japan’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.

Arielle Busetto

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Funa Tonaki at Nippon Budokan on July 24.

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The twilight of July 24 brought an evening of victory for Japan, as judo athletes scored a silver and a gold medal in quick succession in both the women’s and men’s competitions. 

Funa Tonaki earned Japan’s first medal of the Tokyo 2020 Games – a silver in the women’s under-48-kg category at the Nippon Budokan. 

The 25-year-old’s opponent in the final match, Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo, won by waza-ari (uchi-mata) 4 minutes after the start of the match. Krasniqi, who is also 25, was the bronze medalist (48 kg) at the world championships in Tokyo in 2019. 

Earlier in the day, Tonaki prevailed in the quarterfinals against 2016 Rio de Janeiro gold medalist Paula Pareto from Argentina, using an ippon ude-hishigi-juji-gatame.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Judo – Women’s 48kg – Gold medal match – Nippon Budokan – Tokyo, Japan – July 24, 2021. Funa Tonaki of Japan reacts after winning silver against Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Tonaki then claimed a strong win against her archrival and world champion Ukranian Daria Bilodid by closing the semifinal match in overtime with a submission hold, a technique that Tonaki is particularly well-versed in.

Despite her stellar performance, in the interview with NHK after the final match, the Japanese athlete hailing from Sagamihara (just outside Tokyo) was critical of her own performance.

“I thought that my weaknesses came to the fore in the end,” she told NHK, fighting back tears. Directing her message to fans watching on TV, she said: “There are too many people that I want to show this silver medal to, to all those who have supported me and made it possible for me to be here.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Judo – Women’s 48kg – Medal Ceremony – Nippon Budokan – Tokyo, Japan – July 24, 2021. Gold medallist Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo celebrates with silver medallist Funa Tonaki of Japan, bronze medallist Daria Bilodid of Ukraine, and bronze medallist Urantsetseg Munkhbat of Mongolia REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Naohisa Takato takes Japan’s First Gold

Less than an hour later, Naohisa Takato won Japan’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games, in the men’s under-60-kg category. He defeated Yung Wei Yang representing Taiwan, just before 8 P.M., JST. Takato secured the medal by ippon, using a submission hold against his opponent.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Judo – Men’s 60kg – Gold medal match – Nippon Budokan – Tokyo, Japan – July 24, 2021. Naohisa Takato of Japan in action against Yang Yung Wei of Taiwan REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Takato, a 28-year-old veteran of the 2016 Rio Games where he won a bronze medal, hails from Shimotsuke, Ibaraki Prefecture. He entered the competition with the resolve to beat his own record, winning at least a silver medal. 

Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Wang, who is only 23, is the first-ever athlete to win an Olympic medal representing Chinese Taipei, more commonly known as Taiwan. 

The Japanese judoka reached the final match after scoring a wazari sumi-otoshi against Kazakhstan’s Yeldos Smetov in the semifinal. Smetov was a silver medalist in Brazil. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Judo – Men’s 60kg – Medal Ceremony – Nippon Budokan – Tokyo, Japan – July 24, 2021. Gold medallist Naohisa Takato of Japan celebrates REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Expressing appreciation to many who helped him reach the Olympic match, including Japan men’s national judo team head coach Kosei Inoue, Takato told NHK following the bout: “This achievement is thanks to the efforts of all those who have supported me until now.”

Author: Arielle Busetto

Arielle Busetto is a journalist at JAPAN Forward. She has finished the intensive Japanese course of the Inter University Center For Advanced Japanese Studies in Yokohama in summer 2018, and is originally from Siena, Italy.