Two-time men's 73-kilogram Olympic judo champion Shohei Ono has decided to step away from competition, including the 2024 Paris Games, and will focus on coaching, a source with knowledge of the matter said Wednesday.
Ono is reportedly moving toward applying for an overseas coaches' training program organized by the Japanese Olympic Committee and is hoping to study in Britain.
A three-time world champion, Ono took part in April's Japan championship, but has not returned to competing within his weight class since winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics, citing his lack of physical and mental fitness.
The 30-year-old skipped this month's Tokyo Grand Slam and would have faced an extremely hard road to qualify for May's world championships in Doha.
Ono made a name for himself in 2013 at his first worlds, where he won the championship after a string of thrilling ippon victories.
Other than matches from which he was forced to withdraw, he has been undefeated in individual competition against international opponents since August 2014. Former Japan coach Kosei Inoue called him "the world's strongest judoka."
A native of western Japan's Yamaguchi Prefecture, Ono moved to Tokyo after completing elementary school and enrolled in a private judo academy.
Wanting to "embody the best of classic judo," he became adept at attacking opponents head on and slamming them to the mat with bold moves. He earned the respect of the judo world with his direct frontal approach, even against the most wary opponents.
Following his overwhelming 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic triumph, Ono took a year off to rest and attend graduate school. Upon his return, he proved even more dominant, winning all six of his matches at the 2019 worlds at Tokyo's iconic Budokan by ippon.
In last year's Tokyo Olympic final at Budokan, Ono won a tense battle against Georgia's Lasha Shavdatuashvili that went deep into golden score.
Ono acknowledged his inner doubts afterward, saying his calm demeanor concealed the fact he was "competing all the while with a sense of fear" he had never felt before.
Despite his unmatched prowess on the mat, Ono apparently remains something of a solitary figure whose motivations may be at odds with expectations.
"He's had his ups and downs," a source close to Ono said of the judoka, whose successful Olympic title defense on home soil appears to have been the pinnacle of an amazing career.