Judoka at the Tokyo Olympics ushered in an unprecedented gold rush for Japan, leading the way for the host to exceed its overall record haul from the 1964 Tokyo Games with the world's largest sporting event all but promising to bring about more jubilant cheers in the remaining competitions in Tokyo.

The spirited lift could not have come at a better time for Japan at these games, which were postponed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic but still face a public backlash as the country struggles to contain a record surge of virus cases while the competitions proceed at venues largely devoid of spectators.

Gold medalists of Japanese Judoka (front row, from L) Naohisa Takato,  Hifumi Abe, Shohei Ono, (back row, from L) Takanori Nagase, Shoichiro Mukai, Aaron Wolf and Hisayoshi Harasawa pose for a photo at a press conference in Tokyo on Aug. 1, 2021. (Pool photo)(Kyodo)

As of Saturday, Japan as a nation sat on 17 golds in the medals table, the lion's share coming from the judo competition, going one better than the 16 it had in 1964 and 2004 with still eight days remaining at the 2020 Tokyo Games.


Over the course of eight days, the Japanese men collected five judo golds while the women also turned in sensational performances, winning four of the seven weight categories contested at the sport's spiritual home of Nippon Budokan. Japan's nine golds marked an Olympic judo record in individual events, surpassing the eight from the 2004 Athens Games.

With Japan's total of 12 medals, it was a result befitting the host nation and inventor of the sport which made its Olympic debut in 1964. The women's six judo medals -- including a silver and bronze -- matched their largest count in 2004.

However, perhaps the biggest disappointment for Japan was losing in a 4-1 final rout to France in the first-ever mixed team event on the last day of competition.

France's Teddy Riner (blue) defeats Japan's Aaron Wolf in extra time during the Tokyo Olympic judo mixed team final on July 31, 2021, at Nippon Budokan. France won the inaugural event. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In the individual events, Naohisa Takato had an opening-day victory in the men's 60-kilogram final, but his title gave only a hint of what was coming as the momentum built.

Siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe claimed titles in the women's 52 kg and men's 66 kg on the same day and Shohei Ono defended his 73-kg men's title.

Aaron Wolf, a judoka born to an American father and Japanese mother, became a poster boy in his Olympic debut by winning the 100-kg title, the first gold for Japan in the weight class since the 2000 Sydney Games.

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But Hisayoshi Harasawa, the Rio Olympics over 100-kg silver medalist, missed a podium spot and failed in his bid to become the first Japanese to win the category since the 2008 Beijing Games.

The 29-year-old's early defeat exposed Japan's weaknesses against the top fighters in the heaviest weight division and the need for the emergence of new blood.

Four of Japan's men won their first titles, each displaying individual flair while the six female newcomers, featuring over 78-kg champion Akira Sone, invigorated a lineup that dominated convincingly, despite the pressures of being the host.

Japan's Akira Sone (blue) and Cuba's Idalys Ortiz compete in the gold medal contest of the women's judo over 78-kilogram division at the Tokyo Olympics on July 30, 2021, at Nippon Budokan. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Ono showed his throwing prowess and a tenacity to win matches when pushed to the brink. Hifumi Abe not only relied on superior lifting techniques but shined as well with impressive footwork, while Takato, who had won a bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, demonstrated an uncanny ability to control opponents at will in his matches.

Chizuru Arai, the 70-kg champion, displayed strong mental fortitude to stay focused when she defeated Russian Madina Taimazova in a marathon bout to reach the final, while Shori Hamada routed all her opponents, using submission holds, to win the 78-kg title.

Japan's women will have high expectations, centering on youngsters such as Uta Abe and Sone, both of whom are just 21, as key figures leading judo at the 2024 Paris Games.