Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saito's Revenge & Saving Japanese Pride

Saito ended his competition career at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. By then, he was past his prime and with his best years behind him, he could no longer execute the high uchimata he was so known for.

That Olympics was a horrible one for the Japanese judo team. On paper, Japan had assembled one of the best Olympic teams ever. It was a team full of great players. Incredibly, one after another fell by the wayside. Shinji Hosokawa, Yosuke Yamamoto, Toshihiko Koga, Hirotaka Okada and Hitoshi Sugai all lost.

After six days of competition, Japan was still without a gold medal -- something unimaginable. But it was happening. With only one more event left, the +95kg division, it was up to Saito to salvage Japanese honor.  And that, he did.

What made it all the sweeter for him was on his way to the final, he had to meet South Korea's Cho Yong-Chul, who had broken his arm three years earlier at the 1985 Seoul World Championships. Saito wasn't able to throw Cho but he was clearly the aggressor and in the end, Saito won by decision. But a win is a win. He went on to win the sole gold medal for Japan. What a glorious way to end a career!

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