Four-time Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Kaori Icho was awarded the People’s Honor Award by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.
Icho, who became the first woman ever to win four successive individual Olympic golds when she beat Russia’s Koblova Zholobova to claim the 58-kg freestyle title at the Rio Games in August, received a certificate, a plaque and a gold kimono belt at a ceremony at Abe’s office.
“After receiving the certificate, the plaque and the belt, the prestige of the People’s Honor Award really started to sink in,” the 32-year-old Icho, wearing a purple kimono, told reporters at the World Forum on Sport and Culture at a Tokyo hotel later in the day.
“The belt has a lot of yellow in it, and I’m looking forward to deciding which kimono I can wear it with. I want to wear it around the world with the pride of a Japanese.”
The People’s Honor Award was established in 1977 and is given to those whose achievements are considered exceptional. One group and 22 individuals had received the award prior to Icho, including fellow wrestler Saori Yoshida whose bid to match Icho’s four golds ended with a silver medal in the 63-kg freestyle competition in Rio.
Ten-time world champion Icho has yet to decide whether she will aim for her fifth straight gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and not even the prime minister was able to coax an answer from her.
“He smiled and told me he was expecting me to win a fifth straight title,” Icho said of her meeting with Abe. “I’m currently injured and I told him that I’d rest and think about it.
“It is one possibility, but it all comes down to my body and four years is a long time. If you’re not prepared for it then you can’t aim for four years down the line. I need more time to think about it.”
Previous Olympic gold medal-winning athletes who have received the award include 2000 Sydney Games marathon winner Naoko Takahashi and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic judo champion Yasuhiro Yamashita.
Other recipients include film director Akira Kurosawa, composer Masao Koga and baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, who was the first to receive the award in 1977.
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