RIO DE JANEIRO – Ami Kondo won Japan’s first medal of the 2016 Rio Olympics when she beat Mongolia’s Urantsetseg Munkhbat to claim bronze in the women’s 48-kg judo competition on Saturday.
And Naohisa Takato soon followed with a bronze of his own, recovering from defeat in the quarterfinals of the men’s 60 kg to battle through the repechage and beat Azerbaijan’s Orkhan Safarov for the medal.
Kondo, the 2014 world champion, was making her Olympic debut but was far from satisfied with her prize after losing to eventual gold medalist Paula Pareto of Argentina in the semifinals.
“It’s pathetic,” said the 21-year-old Kondo. “This was a tournament where the gap between me and the top judoka really came out.
“In the first bout, my opponent attacked me much more than I thought she would. When it’s the Olympics, you can see it in their eyes that they want it more than usual.”
Kondo ran into trouble early in her semifinal against Pareto, giving up 10 points by waza-ari around 30 seconds into the contest.
A vocal crowd of Argentine fans were drowned out by booing locals every time they chanted their country’s name in support of Pareto, but Kondo could do nothing amid the din as the clock ran down to zero.
“I could see from the opening rounds that her movement was a little stiff,” said Japan women’s team coach Mitsutoshi Nanjo. “I felt that she wasn’t moving with the same vigor as usual.
“After the quarterfinal, we talked about trying to change her mindset. But we couldn’t do it properly and that’s something for the coaching staff to reflect on.”
Kondo redeemed herself to some degree with a last-second yuko victory over Munkhbat in the bronze medal match, but it was not enough to satisfy her expectations.
“Munkhbat really turned it on when the match started, and I knew that if I eased off for just a second she would throw me,” said Kondo. “She just switched as soon as the match started.
“I’m not there yet. I want to spend the next four years training hard and aim toward the next Olympics.”
Takato saw his gold-medal hopes turn to dust when he lost to Georgia’s Amiran Papinashvili by ippon in the quarterfinals, but the Saitama Prefecture native grabbed his second chance by beating South Korea’s Kim Won-jin to reach the bronze-medal match.
“All I can say is that it’s frustrating,” said the 23-year-old Takato, who was sent sprawling by Papinashvili’s sumi-gaeshi throw in the quarterfinals. “When I won it was perfect, but when I lost it was dismal. I can’t make any excuses.
“I must be really stupid, because I was thrown like that before so I don’t know why I did that. The way I attacked was the reason for my defeat. I couldn’t find the balance between attacking and being careful.”
Japan’s men’s team is determined to succeed in Rio after failing to win a single gold medal in London four years ago, and coach Kosei Inoue was left to reflect on a missed opportunity.
“We were aiming for the gold medal, and to be honest I thought Takato was going to give me a great gold-medal present,” said Inoue. “The color is different but to get this first present is a real honor.
“The most frustrating thing for him is that he was beaten in one instant. We try to train our judoka to leave absolutely no gaps whatsoever, so I feel a responsibility for what happened. It’s a waste.”