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Judo competitions at the Sydney Olympics will be played out on tatami mats made in Japan, marking their debut in overseas competitions and lending the Japanese team confidence in its footing.

The mats are manufactured by Mizuno Corp., a leading sporting goods maker and an official provider to the Summer Games, which kick off today.

The introduction of Japanese-made tatami was arranged after the company approached the organizing committee of the Games and recommended its products, company officials said.

Many tatami used for judo competitions outside of Japan are made in Europe, and they are slicker than those made by Mizuno, they said.

Yasuhiro Yamashita, a 1984 Los Angeles Olympics gold medalist who heads Japan’s men’s judo team, welcomed the mats’ use. “It is no doubt that the tatami material will help (Japanese athletes), as they will be able to compete on mats whose feel they are used to,” he said.

Experts say tatami have played a significant role in international competitions in the past.

At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Ryoko Tamura, Japan’s gold medal favorite in the women’s 48-kg class, lost in the final against North Korea’s Kye Sun.

Some partially attributed Tamura’s defeat to the unfamiliar touch of the tatami in Atlanta.

Although Tamura has never attributed her loss to the tatami, her coaches reportedly said she kept slipping on the mats, cutting back on her speed, considered her strong point.

For Sydney, Tamura said she gathered information on the tatami at an early stage.

“There will be no worry about slipping this time,” she said shortly before departing for Australia. “I am happy that they are made in Japan.”

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