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A History of Olympic Judo: Milestones, Champions, and Global Impact

Teddy Riner, Judo Champion
via IJF Media Team / International Judo Federation
Black Belt Plus

Judo, a martial art originating in Japan, made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Tokyo Games and has since become a captivating spectacle, showcasing remarkable athletes and unforgettable moments. This article explores the history of judo at the Olympics, highlighting key milestones, notable achievements, and the sport's global influence.

Birth and Evolution in the Olympic Arena

Created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano, judo emphasizes throws, grappling, joint locks, and chokes, while promoting physical and mental well-being. Its Olympic journey began in 1964, largely due to the efforts of the Japanese Olympic Committee and the International Judo Federation (IJF), which governs judo competitions worldwide.

Significant Moments in Olympic Judo History

  • 1964 Tokyo Olympics: Judo debuted with four men's weight categories, with Japanese judoka securing three gold medals. Notably, Anton Geesink's victory in the open category marked a shift in judo's landscape, challenging Japan's dominance and highlighting the sport's global appeal.

  • 1972 Munich Olympics: Judo returned to the Olympic program after being excluded from the 1968 Games.

  • 1988 Seoul Olympics: Women's judo was introduced as a demonstration sport, marking a step towards gender equality.

  • 1992 Barcelona Olympics: Women's judo was officially included, with seven weight categories mirroring the men's.

  • 2008 Beijing Olympics: A new format was introduced, requiring all matches to have a winner, eliminating draws.

  • 2020 Tokyo Olympics: Judo returned to its roots with a mixed-team event, emphasising teamwork and national pride.

Notable Achievements and Athletes

  • Tadahiro Nomura (Japan): Won three gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004) in the men's extra lightweight division.

  • Ryoko Tani (Japan): Earned two gold medals (2000, 2004) and three bronze medals (1992, 1996, 2008) in the women's extra lightweight division.

  • Anton Geesink (Netherlands): Made history with his open category victory in 1964.

  • Kayla Harrison (USA): Became the first American judoka to win Olympic gold, achieving this feat in both 2012 and 2016.

  • Teddy Riner (France): A dominant force in heavyweight contests, with two Olympic gold medals and numerous World Championship titles.

Countries of Note

  • Japan: The birthplace of judo, Japan remains a powerhouse, boasting 48 Olympic gold medals.

  • France: A strong contender, with athletes like Teddy Riner achieving notable success.

Olympic Influence and Legacy

Judo's inclusion in the Olympics has significantly boosted its global reach and popularity. Its core values of discipline, respect, and teamwork align with the Olympic spirit, making it a natural fit for the Games. The addition of women's judo and the mixed-team event demonstrate the sport's commitment to diversity and progress.

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