World champ Nagase settles for judo bronze on frustrating day for Japan

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Japan endured a day of slim pickings on the Rio Olympic judo mat Tuesday as men’s 81-kg world champion Takanori Nagase was forced to settle for bronze and Miku Tashiro missed out on a medal entirely in the women’s 63-kg competition.

Nagase was considered a strong favorite for the gold medal only to crash out in the quarterfinals to Sergiu Toma of the United Arab Emirates, saving face only after grinding through the repechage round and edging out Georgia’s Avtandili Tchrikishvili in the bronze-medal match.

“Of course I was aiming for the gold medal and I am frustrated, but I managed to come through the two matches after I lost and win a medal,” said the 22-year-old Nagase, who was taking part in his first Olympics. “My movement started to come back after that, which was good.”

Tashiro became the first Japanese judoka not to win a medal at the Rio Games when she lost to Yarden Gerbi of Israel in the bronze playoff, having fallen to France’s Clarisse Agbegnenou in the semifinals. After four days of competition at Carioca Arena 2, where two bronze medals are up for grabs in each category, Japan has claimed one gold and six bronze.

“It was such a big stage,” said Olympic debutant Tashiro, who could barely compose herself as she spoke to reporters after losing to Gerbi.

“I just couldn’t go the final step and see out the win. I felt just how big the Olympics is, and how scary it is. But a lot of people have supported me and pushed me on, and I’m sorry that this is the result.”

Nagase lost his quarterfinal after succumbing to a sode-tsurikomi-goshi maneuver by Toma, who represented Moldova at the London Olympics four years ago but took up U.A.E. citizenship after moving there with six other Moldovan judoka and the national team coach in 2013.

“I was too timid and couldn’t move the way I usually do,” said Nagase. “Of course part of it was down to the fact that I just wasn’t good enough, but I don’t think I did myself justice in that match.

“I really wanted to win, and that translated into me being too cautious and I couldn’t really go for it. He was difficult to fight against, but I’m the world champion and I should be able to work out how to fight anyone.”

Nagase recovered to beat London Games bronze medalist Antoine Valois-Fortier of Canada in the repechage round, before seeing off Tchrikishvili for the medal.

“He didn’t give up until the end,” said Japan men’s team coach Kosei Inoue, for whom only Shohei Ono in the 73-kg category has delivered a gold medal.

“He picked himself up after losing and won in his usual style. After he lost, I told him that you never know what is going to happen in the Olympics. It could be one more match, it could be two, so just give it all you’ve got.”

“It’s difficult to pick yourself up when you lose on this stage,” he added. “So I think he did well to get a bronze. I think he has become a much stronger judoka.”

Tashiro was unable to do the same after losing to 2014 world champion Agbegnenou in the semifinals, having picked up a penalty with just over 30 seconds of the match remaining.

“To lose by such a senseless penalty is just pathetic,” said the 22-year-old Tashiro. “It’s too late for regrets now. That was my one chance. If you don’t win it means nothing.”

Gerbi beat Tashiro for bronze to claim Israel’s first medal of the Rio Games, but Japan women’s team head coach Mitsutoshi Nanjo was left ruing the late penalty that cost Tashiro in the semi.

“I don’t think she fought as well as she is able to against Agbegnenou,” he said. “But the penalty she picked up at the end is something she has a habit of doing unconsciously. Penalties have become stricter and I tell her to watch out for them. It’s disappointing.”