Olympics Photo of the Day

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ryoko TANI

Ryoko Tamura was only sixteen years old when she upset Karen Briggs in the semifinals of the Judo extra-lightweight division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. She lost to world champion Cécile Nowak of France in the final, but it was clear that the future belonged to Tamura. Indeed, she went undefeated for the next four years. Only 1.46m tall, Tamura was hugely popular in Japan, where her success had spawned an interest in women's judo. She was known as "Yawara-chan" because of her resemblance to a popular comic book character. She entered the final of the 1996 Olympics with an 84-match winning streak. Her opponent was a complete unknown: 16-year-old Kye Sun-hi of North Korea, who had never heard of Tamura. Kye startled Tamura by attacking from the start and the double world champion was unable to establish her rhythm. With 22 seconds left, Kye scored with a leg hook and then added an insurance point when Tamura, on her knees, was penalized for "false attack."
Between the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, Tamura again won all of her matches. No Japanese athlete at the Sydney Games bore the weight of her nation’s expectations more than Tamura. "My goal at Sydney?" she said. "At best a gold, at worst a gold." Tamura survived a near-upset in the semifinals when she was awarded a decision over North Korean Cha Hyon-hyang. As a contest, her final match against Lyubov Bruletova of Russia was an anticlimax, as Tamura used an uchimata (inner thigh throw) to score ippon after only 36 seconds. Tamura was mobbed by photographers and cameramen who broke down the barrier separating the athletes from the media. She was kept up doing live television interviews until 3am, when she was finally able to lock herself into her room at the Olympic Village. Alone at least, she burst into tears and then placed her gold medal on her pillow and fell asleep.
At the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, Ryoko Tamura, whose name is now RyokoTani - her husband Yoshitomo Tani is a member of the Japanese baseball team - defended her title won in Sydney in 2000 and won the gold medal in the - 48kg, ahead of French woman Frédérique Jossinet. She thus became the first judoka to retain her Olympic title.
In Beijing in 2008, the Japanese judoka took part in her fifth Olympic Games. The six-time world champion and double Olympic champion was the woman to beat in the under-48kg ranking. However, her dream to win a third gold medal ended in the semi-final, when, a few seconds before the end of the bout against Romania’s Dimitru, she took a penalty, which made her lose the match. As a great champion, Ryoko Tani did not throw in the towel, and won the bronze medal match again Russia’s Bogdanova. She thus stood on the Olympic podium for the fifth time in five editions of the Games.