Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hitoshi Saito's last (All-Japan) hurrah

As mentioned in a previous post, Hitoshi Saito had the misfortune of competing during the era of the great Yasuhiro Yamashita, whose dominance thwarted Saito's attempts to win the coveted All-Japan Judo Championships.

For three year in a row, in 1983, 1984 and 1985, Yamashita defeated Saito, though it was usually by a penalty or decision rather than a throw. In 1985, some say Saito actually won, although in the end, the decision went to Yamashita.

After the 1985 All-Japan Championships, Yamashita retired, clearing the way for Saito to finally win the All-Japan's. But as luck would have it, in the 1985 World Championships, his arm got broken by his South Korean opponent during an illegal waki-gatame attempt. That sidelined him for 1986, allowing rising star, Yoshimi Masaki, to win the All-Japan's that year. In 1987, Saito was beset with a knee injury, giving Masaki the chance to win his second All-Japan title.

After a two-year absence, Saito was fit enough to fight again in 1988. No longer able to do his lethal uchimata, Saito nevertheless gave it his all, in his last attempt to win the elusive All-Japan Championships. In his path would be Masaki, who was an even larger player and who was still in the peak of his prime.

A lot was at stake. Not only was this his last All-Japan's, it was also the qualification event for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Watch Saito fight for glory in what would turn out to be the best year in his illustrious judo career.

1 comment:

  1. A soul in peace and joyful in the heavens of judo family, a great judoka and competitor, terrific spirit...!