Part 9 of 14 parts
The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward wanted to know more about what it is that attracts men and women from widely divergent cultural and economic backgrounds to the Japanese modern martial art. We took the opportunity of the one-year delay in the 2020 Games to catch up with Japan’s national judo team men’s coach, Kosei Inoue, to ask about the role of the sport in his life, and what it takes to live by the principles embodied in the “gentle way.”
Excerpts of the interview are being featured daily in a 14-day series (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). In Part 9, Coach Inoue talks about the perspective he’s gained from his experiences at four OlympicsーSydney, Athens, London and Rio de Janeiroーand how each one has helped him become a better person and coach.
Excerpts of the interview follow.
In August 2004, you served as captain of Team Japan at the Athens Olympics, your second straight Olympics competing in the men's 100-kg class. You were undefeated for five years in official matches at international tournaments leading up to these Olympics, and the favorite to win the gold. But you suffered a shocking loss by ippon in the fourth round. It took some time before you stood up after this loss. You returned to the consolation bracket and did not take a medal.
When I lost in the fourth round, my mind was blank. I didn’t know what had happened.
In the first round, you won by ippon by okuri-eri-jime (sliding collar strangle), but you had trouble attacking in the second round although you won by decision. You won by ippon with an uchi-mata in the third round, but lost by ippon with your opponent's ouchi-gaeshi (counter to ouchi-gari, a large inner reaping throw) in the second round of the consolation bracket. Somehow, you weren’t yourself right up to the end.
From the first round, I felt like I wasn't playing well. I felt unsettled and tried to recover, but the next match I still felt something was off. My irritation and anxiety added up to the loss.
I also lost by ippon in the consolation round. I hadn't lost in so long, but I lost by ippon twice on the same day. Honestly, I was devastated.
Now when I think back on that time from a place of calm, I see that I was bound to lose at those Olympics. The major reason for my loss was insufficient preparation. I was presumptuous, thinking that ‘Kosei Inoue’ must cleanly throw his opponents and win by ippon. I was forced to realize I was human.
I didn't worry at all about the supposed jinx that prevents the team captain from winning. But the burden was heavy and the pressure not to lose was strong.
Of course, it was a once-in-a-lifetime honor. I was chosen as flag bearer for the Sydney Games, I was a coach for London, and I was head coach for Rio de Janeiro. I have been truly fortunate.
But if an athlete today came to me for advice on being flag bearer or captain, I would tell him or her to think very hard about the pressure and his or her own competition schedule.
You won the gold in Sydney and suffered a crushing defeat in Athens. Both the glory and the failure were experiences that you've put to work in your subsequent life as a coach.
In competition, you have to win. You are expected to produce results. Humans can grow when they put forth this massive amount of effort. Yet, winning is not everything. I learned a lot from losing at the Olympics, and I've put that experience to work as a coach.
It is important that I do not take my experiences during my time as an active athlete and try to apply them to the athletes of today. Rather than force my experiences in winning gold and losing at the Olympics upon them, I must do my best to manage in a way that best suits the athletes.
I try to keep this in mind as I apply my experiences to this next step in my life.
To be continued
Read Other Segments of the Kosei Inoue Judo Story:
- Part 1 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] What it’s Like Being National Coach in the midst of COVID-19
- Part 2 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Attraction of Competing Against Someone Bigger and Stronger
- Part 3 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Learning the Lessons of Winning, Losing and Moving On Without a Grudge
- Part 4 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Continuing On Through Slumps and the Pain of Personal Loss
- Part 5 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Lessons Learned from Competing Against My Brother
- Part 6 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Getting to Sydney: It’s the Way You Perform Judo that Matters
- Part 7 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Thrill of Becoming a National Champion
- Part 8 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Responsibility that Comes withWinning
- Part 10 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Overcoming the Physical and Mental Demons of a Major Injury
- Part 11 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Knowing How to Make a Comeback and When to Call it Quits
- Part 12 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Turning Point for Judo’s Revival in Japan
- Part 13 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Reaching Beyond Home to Strengthen the Team and Bring Results
- Part 14 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] ‘I Love Coaching - I’m Determined to Give It My All’
Interview by: Mitsuru Tanaka