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Olympics

OLYMPICS | Japan’s Medal Tally Establishes New Benchmark for Nation’s Athletes

With 58 medals, including 27 gold, at the Tokyo Games, Japan’s Olympians collected 17 more medals than the nation’s previous record. The host nation received medals in 20 of 33 sports on the Olympic menu.

Ed Odeven

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Judoka Takato Naohisa won the first of Japan's national Olympic record 27 gold medals on July 24. Naohisa triumphed in the men's under-60 kg category. (Hannah McKay/REUTERS)

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Japan’s athletes received medals on every available day of the Tokyo Olympics.

From July 24 to August 8, there was a consistent storyline for the host nation: another day, more medals.

It all added up to a record 58 medals for Japan, starting with judoka Funa Tonaki’s silver in the women’s under-48 kg division and ending with the women’s basketball team’s runner-up finish on the final day of the Summer Games.

The final tally: 27 gold, 14 silver, 17 bronze.

The nation’s previous record of 41 medals was achieved at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where Japanese Olympians hauled in 12 gold, eight silver and 21 bronze.

By more than double the total numbers of golds collected in Rio, Japan’s Olympians vaulted to third overall in first-place medals at the Tokyo Games, trailing only China (38) and the United States (39).

In the total medal standings, Japan was fifth overall, finishing behind Great Britain (65), the Russian Olympic Committee (71), China (88) and the United States (113).

By all accounts, it was an impressive achievement.

“Japan’s national team was able to make its own record result this time,” Mitsugi Ogata, the Japan Olympic team’s deputy delegation head, told reporters on the final day of the Olympics, according to published reports. “We don’t want this to be like disappearing fireworks. We think it is important that we keep this momentum going through Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.”

Before the global pandemic forced the postponement of the Tokyo Games, Japanese Olympic Committee officials publicized a target of 30 gold medals for the host nation.

They later downplayed that target, citing uncertainties associated with the pandemic in terms of athletes’ performance-related factors.

Just weeks before the Olympics began, JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita addressed the matter at a June 26 news conference

“In regard to whether it’s important to achieve 30 [gold] medals,” Yamashita said, “I would have to answer clearly ‘no.’ ”

The JOC chief elaborated by telling reporters, “I think it is a common understanding [at the Japanese Olympic Committee] that we want to have each athlete be able to do their best and do their utmost,” The Associated Press reported.

The JOC’s wishes came true, with the aforementioned 58 medals setting a new standard of Olympic excellence for the nation.

“Originally we had a goal of winning 30 gold medals.” Ogata was quoted as saying by The Associated Press on Sunday, August 8. “Although we were not able to achieve that goal, the number of gold medals, total medals, are all historic highs.”

After the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, August 8, Olympic Council of Asia President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah’s comments highlighted the success of Japanese athletes along with competitors from across the vast continent.

“This shows the development of our Asian athletes and their progress from our Asian Games to the Olympic Games,” the OCA chief said in a statement. “The Asian Games have been an important stepping stone to the Olympics and given athletes from all our NOCs (National Olympic Committees) the experience to flourish at the highest level.”

Sheikh Ahmad continued: “New national heroes have been created who will take a special place in history for what they have achieved at this difficult time. They have lifted the spirits of the people and brought pride to their people.

“The Olympic Council of Asia would like to express our full support for the decision to host the Olympic Games. They have been an outstanding success.”

Medal Breakdown

Of the aforementioned 58 medals, Japan medaled in 20 of the 33 sports on the Olympic program.

Here’s where the medals came from:

  • Archery (2)
  • Athletics, aka track and field, (2)
  • Badminton (1)
  • Baseball (1)
  • Basketball (1)
  • Boxing (3)
  • Cycling (1)
  • Fencing (1)
  • Golf (1)
  • Gymnastics (5)
  • Judo (12)
  • Karate (3)
  • Skateboarding (5)
  • Softball (1)
  • Sport climbing (2)
  • Surfing (2)
  • Swimming (3)
  • Table tennis (4)
  • Weightlifting (1)
  • Wrestling (7)

New sports on the Olympic menu were karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, and Japan produced quality results in those sports.

Japan shined in all of these events with a combined 11 medals, including three skateboarding golds, with Yuto Horigome, 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya and Sakura Yosozumi winning the men’s street, women’s street and women’s park events, respectively.

Okinawa native Ryo Kiyuna became the nation’s first karate medalist on August 6, nabbing gold in the men’s kata competition. What’s more, Kiyuna, Japan’s Closing Ceremony flagbearer, became the first Olympic medalist from Okinawa. And now all 47 prefectures are represented by Olympic medalists born there. 

Kiyuna’s Olympic team colleagues Kiyou Shimizu and Ryutaro Araga brought more pride to the nation’s karate enthusiasts by capturing the women’s kata silver medal on August 5 and men’s kumite over-75 kg division on August 7.

In sport climbing, Japan’s medalists were women’s combined participants Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi, who collected the silver and bronze on August 6.

Surfers Kanoa Igarashi and Amuro Tsuzuki rode the waves to a men’s silver and a women’s bronze on July 27.

In addition to the newly added Olympic sports, Japan triumphed in the Olympic return of softball and baseball, capturing team titles on July 27 and August 7 at Yokohama Stadium. (Neither sport is on the menu for the 2024 Paris Games.)

Baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, the sport’s all-time home-run king and Samurai Japan’s winning manager at the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, cherished the national team’s triumph over the United States in the title game on the final weekend of the Games.

“I believe baseball is one of our national sports,” Oh was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “To win the gold medal we aspired for is the greatest. An Olympic gold medal is extra special.”

A few more notes about Japan’s medal haul: 

  • Of the 12 judo medals, nine were of the gold variety. 
  • Judoka stars Hifumi and Uta Abe won gold medals on the same day, July 25, becoming the first Japanese Olympic siblings to do so. Hifumi snatched the gold in the men’s under-66 kg division, while Uta triumphed in the women’s under-52 kg division.
  • Of the seven wrestling medals, five were gold. 
  • Wrestling sisters Yukako and Risako Kawai collected gold medals on back-to-back days, August 4 and 5, in the women’s freestyle 57-kg and 63-kg division. Yukako’s victory occurred in the division that her older sister, the defending gold medalist, vacated in order to give her a shot at competing for an Olympic medal. Risako then completed the storybook tale and shared in the euphoria with Yukako.
  • The Japan women’s basketball team secured the nation’s first medal in the sport by finishing runner-up to the United States, which claimed its seventh straight title, on August 8.
  • Gymnast Mai Murakami, the women’s floor exercise final bronze medalist on August 2, collected the nation’s first Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics since the 1964 Tokyo Games. In doing so, she also became Japan’s first female individual event medalist in gymnastics.
  • Golfer Mone Inami became the nation’s first Olympic medalist in the sport, placing second in the women’s tournament on August 7.

Daily Rundown of Gold Medalists

From Day 2 of the XXXII Olympiad, Japan’s Olympians made repeated appearances in the center position of the medal ceremony.

Gold medals were a regular occurrence and a source of pride for the nation’s citizens and residents.

Without further ado, a complete rundown of the gold medalists from July 24 to August 7. (Japan hauled in two silver medals on the final day of the Olympics, the aforementioned women’s basketball team’s second-place finish and cyclist Yumi Kajihara’s runner-up finish in the omnium event, which made her the nation’s first medalist in cycling.)

Japan’s gold medalists:

JULY 24: Judoka Takato Naohisa won the men’s men’s under-60 kg title.

JULY 25: Swimmer Yui Ohashi (women’s 400-meter individual medley), judoka Uta and Hifumi Abe (as cited above) and skateboarder Yuto Horigome.

JULY 26: Judoka Shohei Ono repeated as men’s under-73 kg champion, while table tennis mixed doubles partners Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito captured the nation’s first gold in the sport.

JULY 27: Judoka Takanori Nagase received the nation’s first gold in the men’s under-81 kg division since the 2000 Sydney Games, and the Yukiko Ueno-led softball team defended its title 13 years after its last Olympic appearance.

JULY 28: Swimmer Yui Ohashi did it again, winning the women’s 2OO IM, judoka Chizuru Arai triumphed in the women’s under-70 kg division and gymnast Daiki Hashimoto captured the men’s all-around title.

JULY 29: Judoka Shori Hamada, an Olympic debutante at age 30, grabbed the women’s under-78 kg crown, while fellow judoka Aaron Wolf took the title in the men’s under-100 kg division on a glorious day for the national sport.

JULY 30: Judoka Akira Sone snatched the title in the women’s over-78 kg weight class, while the Japan men’s fencing team (Koki Kano, Masaru Yamada, Satoru Uyama and Kazuyasu Minobe) earned the nation’s first first-ever Olympic fencing gold in the epee final.

AUGUST 3: Boxing featherweight Sena Irie claimed the nation’s first medal by a female fighter and gymnast Daiki Hashimoto triumphed in the men’s horizontal bar final.

AUGUST 4: Skateboarder Sakura Yosozumi won the women’s park event (as mentioned above) and wrestler Yukako Kawai claimed the aforementioned women’s freestyle 62-kg title.

AUGUST 5: Wrestler Risako Kawai grabbed the women’s freestyle 57-kg title (as reported above).

AUGUST 6: Karate standout Ryo Kiyuna was victorious in the men’s kata event (see above), wrestler Mayu Mukaida earned the title in the women’s freestyle 53-kg weight class.

AUGUST 7: Wrestler Takuto Otoguro triumphed in the men’s freestyle 65-kg division and fellow wrestler Yui Susaki completed a sensational run to the women’s title in the women’s 50-kg weight class, as highlighted in this report, while on the same night Samurai Japan captured the Olympic baseball title for the first time (see above). 

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.