Hitoshi Saito, a two-time Olympic judo champion and head of the All Japan Judo Federation’s committee for enhancement, died of intrahepatic bile duct cancer Tuesday in Osaka, an AJJF official said. He was 54.
Saito won gold medals at two consecutive Olympic Games, in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988, in the men’s over 95-kg category.
He was also known as a close rival of Yasuhiro Yamashita, who won the gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in the open weight class and currently serves as the AJJF vice president.
“He was my lifetime rival. It is very unfortunate to hear this,” said Yamashita.
They fought in the final of the All-Japan judo championship for three straight years from 1983. Saito lost in those bouts but claimed the national title in 1988.
After retiring as an athlete, Saito served as the men’s national team coach for the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The Aomori Prefecture native became head of the AJJF’s committee for enhancement in November 2012.
Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda expressed his shock at the sudden news.
“It is all very sudden, so I don’t know what to say. . . . As a player and coach he really gave it his all, and we had expectations for him so it is unfortunate. I had the impression he was a serious and conscientious person,” Takeda said.