Ono claims one for judo's little guys

Japan's Shohei Ono (blue) competing with Belgium's Dirk van Tichelt in their men's -73kg semi-final. The Japanese said his victory in the final should inspire smaller judoka to achieve greater feats.
Japan's Shohei Ono (blue) competing with Belgium's Dirk van Tichelt in their men's -73kg semi-final. The Japanese said his victory in the final should inspire smaller judoka to achieve greater feats.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Shohei Ono insisted small fighters could produce big judo after ending Japan's painful men's gold-medal drought by winning the Under-73kg category at the Rio Olympics on Monday.

The controversial two-time world champion was imperious throughout and dominated world No. 2 Rustam Orujov of Azerbaijan in the final, scoring the maximum ippon with an inner leg reap.

Although fighting at light-middleweight, Ono, 24, said his triumph should inspire smaller judoka to achieve greater feats.

"When people look at Japanese judo, a lot of the attention goes to the heavyweight classes," he said. "I was able to demonstrate that even in this weight you can have a strong and beautiful performance."

Japan's normally dominant men had been in turmoil after failing to win a gold in London four years ago. Judo success - in particular that of the men's team - is a source of national pride in the country.

After winning eight of the 14 categories at Athens 2004, the London debacle hit Japan hard. They rebounded well a year later, winning four golds at the world championships as Ono made his debut.

He won his first world title, but a year later was disqualified from defending his crown for his part in a bullying scandal at his university.

He bounced back last year to win a second world title and hopes had been high that he would deliver in Rio as well.

But Japan did not start the Rio Games well - by their demanding standards - with all five preceding athletes claiming only bronzes.

And Ono later admitted he felt added pressure to deliver. "People were expecting me to get gold, so yes, I did feel pressure," he said.

While many would describe his style as classical upright Japanese judo, Ono himself believes it is all of his own making.

"If people from outside Japan see my judo and think it's good, of course I'm very happy about that," he said.

"For me, it's the Ono style of judo. What I wanted to do was demonstrate that the Ono style is the strongest judo style - the No. 1 judo style.

"That certainly was the goal entering the Olympics. I was able to demonstrate that and I'm very happy.

"I'm hoping children practising judo in Japan will be inspired and motivated by that and even if they are small, they can do big judo."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Ono claims one for judo's little guys'. Print Edition | Subscribe