LONDON - Hiroaki Hiraoka had to settle for the silver medal after losing a battle to Russian Arsen Galstyan in the men’s 60-kg judo final at the London Olympics on Saturday.
Tomoko Fukumi, meanwhile, lost to Beijing Olympic champion Alina Dumitru in the women’s 48-kg semifinals, and finished below all expectations outside of the medals after a shock ippon defeat to Hungary’s Eva Csernoviczki in the match for third place.
The loss was a major blow for Japan’s women on the opening day of the judo tournament as the 27-year-old Fukumi was the hot favorite to grab the top podium spot in the women’s lightest category.
Galstyan, whom Hiraoka lost to in the quarterfinals of the 2010 world championships, was also the better man on this day at the ExCel venue.
Hiraoka defeated Elio Verde of Italy, scoring an inner-leg sacrifice sweep for ippon to make the final against Galstyan, who he shared the bronze with in 2010.
Despite his disappointment, Hiraoka’s silver gave Japan a boost for its first medal of the 2012 Summer Games.
But the 27-year-old Hiroshima native will surely relive the final in slow motion as he appeared to get the upper hand on Galstyan as the two grappled for position.
Hiraoka attempted a cartwheel carry to reverse his opponent’s initial throw, only for Galstyan to deploy a sweeping wrap-around throw to score an ippon on the fly.
“I lost in my first match at the Beijing Games, so I was only thinking about winning the gold. It’s disappointing because I worked so hard for four years,” Hiraoka said. “I wanted to repay my thanks with a gold medal, so I feel this was a poor result.”
Earlier, Hiraoka won his first match by ippon and the next two on points, sneaking into the semifinals.
“I was able to stand here at the London Olympics because of all of the support I received. I needed to get the men off with a strong start by winning the gold medal, but I couldn’t do it,” said Hiraoka.
Fukumi made it unscathed through her first three matches, securing two ippon victories before winning on points in her third match of the competition.
But she ran into a brick wall in the form of Romanian Dumitru, the same opponent who beat Fukumi’s countrywoman Ryoko Tani by ippon in the semifinals en route to winning the gold in Beijing.
The 29-year-old Dumitru scored a waza-ari, when she executed a reverse leg-sweeping technique on Fukumi, who had attempted an ill-advised outside leg trip while shifting off-balance.
Clearly shell-shocked from her loss to Dumitru, Fukumi could not rebound in her next match against Csernoviczki, falling to the Hungarian woman in the golden score period on a clean minor outer-leg trip.
It was the first time since the introduction of the weight category at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that Japan failed to medal in the event.
“I will regret my performance here for the rest of my life. I wasn’t able to win the gold medal,” said Fukumi. “This is how the Olympics is, though. I have to think long and hard about what I was lacking here.”
Making her Olympic debut, Fukumi was attempting to follow in the footsteps of retired five-time Olympian Ryoko Tani, a seven-time world champion and winner of the gold at both the Sydney and Athens Games.
Sarah Menezes of Brazil beat Dumitru on points in the final to win her first Olympic gold.
Menezes became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic judo gold.
“I’m exceedingly happy,” Menezes said afterwards. “I hoped and prayed for this medal and I got it at 22.”