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Determined Shohei Ono battles past An Chang-rim to earn 73-kg gold

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Shohei Ono put on a show at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, winning four of the five matches by ippon. By doing so, he nabbed a gold medal in the men’s 73-kg judo competition.

The fashion in which he earned the gold in the same weight division at the Asian Games on Thursday was not as auspicious. It took him about 11 minutes to finally beat South Korea’s An Chang-rim in the golden score period.

A little surprisingly, Ono gave himself credit for winning out in the difficult bout.

And he probably knew the final against An wasn’t the most beautiful judo fight in the world. But at the end of the day, you cannot afford to lose a single contest to win a gold medal at the Olympics and world championships and sometimes you have to manage to beat your opponent no matter how ugly it gets.

The Asian Games final might have been one of those rough matches, in which the fighters seemed extremely fatigued toward the end. Which is why Ono was happy he prevailed in the end.

“While I was fighting, I was thinking I was ready to do this for however long it would be, whether it’s 10 minutes or 20 minutes,” Ono said. “I was thinking that I was second to none in terms of the quality and volume of my training and spirit.”

The 26-year-old judoka set a goal of collecting another Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games, and he seems to place more value on his mental approach to accomplish that. He thinks that it is important to overwhelm your opponent by displaying a bullish heart on the tatami.

“If I backed away (from An), I would lose my chance to go to the Olympics — I went in the match with the strong mindset,” the two-time world championship said.

The Yamaguchi Prefecture native thought he was able to do that in Thursday’s final, and it satisfied him.

“To you all, it might not have been a surprise (that I won),” Ono told the reporters. “I get so much pressure on my shoulders, being in a position that people assume I would win. But in these circumstances, I managed to win in the way I won in the final, (so) I feel like I’ve made a step forward.”

At the national weight class championships this spring, Ono failed to earn a spot on the national team for next month’s world championships.

So was he disheartened to compete at the Asiad?

No. Instead, Ono took pride in the battle at the quadrennial event and was proud to nab his first title here.

“This is not a meet that you can compete at very often,” he said. “So I’m so thrilled.”