Naohisa Takato delivers Japan first gold of Tokyo Olympics in judo

Mixed day one for host nation as Tonaki wins judo silver but gymnastics great Uchimura fails to qualify

Naohisa Takato delivered the host nation's first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Saturday after winning the men's 60 kg judo, a sport fittingly born in Japan 140 years ago.

The win against Taiwan's Yang Yung-wei left Takato weeping on the mat and stood in contrast to the lack of fans in an empty arena at the Nippon Budokan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is heavy. It makes me feel like dreaming," Takato said when asked about the gold medal around his neck.

The triple world champion judoka, who had disappointed with a bronze medal at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, had a nail-biting ride to the top of the podium with three victories in the finals coming in the sudden death Golden Score period.

He had a close shave in his quarter-final, winning during Golden Score overtime on a foul by his Georgian opponent Lukhumi Chkhvimiani.

In the elimination round of 16, Takato delivered an ippon against Belgian Jorre Verstaeten.

"It was frustrating in Rio," Takato said. "It was a long road to get here."

Takato's victory underscored Japan's strength at a sport that originated in the country. Bronze medals went to Yeldos Smetov of Kazakhstan and Luka Mkheidze of France.

Japanese female judoka Funa Tonaki reached the final in her 48kg class but lost to Kosovo's Distria Krasniqi, just one bout away from achieving double gold on the same day.

Tonaki, a former world champion making her Olympic debut, won a semi-final with an ippon - judo's equivalent of a knockout - by pinning Ukraine's Daria Bilodid in Golden Score overtime.

It was a bittersweet day for the host nation, which has endured a lead up to the Games like no other.

The career of "King" Kohei Uchimura, twice Olympics all-around champion and holder of seven Olympic medals, came to an abrupt end when he failed to qualify in the gymnastics arena.

Japan also suffered an opening swimming session blow when top gold medal hope Daiya Seto failed to make the men's 400 metres medley final.

Updated: July 24th 2021, 4:33 PM
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