Japan look ready to bounce back in the Olympic judo at Rio de Janeiro after their London humiliation four years ago but face a tough test from a deep pool of global talent.
The Japanese took home just one gold from London and the men failed to win any for the first time since judo’s Games debut in 1964, an embarrassment for the birthplace of the martial art.
But boasting six current world champions, the team has fought to regain momentum before the 2020 Games in Tokyo, performing strongly in international tournaments.
The Japanese Olympic Committee has set a goal of 14 golds and 30 medals overall in Rio, with its judokas under heavy pressure to contribute.
The women will face stiff competition from a host of countries including France and hosts Brazil, with Kaori Matsumoto, Japan’s sole winner of London gold, needing to battle it out in a very deep 57kg division.
The men’s 81kg is also tipped to be among the most competitive with a showdown anticipated between Georgia’s top-ranked Avtandili Tchrikishvili and Japanese world number two Takanori Nagase.
Kayla Harrison, the first American to win judo gold, will have her hands full defending her 78kg title against Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar and Audrey Tcheumeo of France, who both took bronze in 2012.
And then there’s French juggernaut Teddy Riner in the men’s 100kg. The 2.04m heavyweight has not lost since 2010, using his size and athleticism to topple everyone in his path on the way to eight world titles and gold in London.
Second-ranked Hisayoshi Harasawa has yet to fight Riner and Rio presents the tantalizing prospect of a showdown.
But the Japanese will be new to the pressure of the Olympic tatami, giving Riner the advantage.