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Longtime judo coach Hiroshi Nakamura to be inducted into Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

As a young man, Hiroshi Nakamura left Japan and settled in Canada.

That decision had a profound impact on his life and the future of Canadian judo, too.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Nakamura will be one of nine 2019 inductees into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.

It’s a symobl of his legacy: decades of dedication to the sport, teaching it and cultivating generations of judoka.

In a news release issued by the Canadian Olympic Committee, Nakamura’s biography highlights his impact, noting he is “responsible for the establishment of judo as a competitive sport in Canada. Sensei Nakamura helps run the Nakamura Gill Foundation, which raises thousands of dollars each year to support talented young judoka that need financial assistance and provide classes for young adolescents with integration difficulties and free judo sessions.”

The 77-year-old Tokyo native is humbled by the recognition.

“It’s an honor. I love judo, and I don’t think there’s a magic recipe, and that’s what I’ve always done with my athletes,” Nakamura told the Judo Canada website on Monday, the day his Hall of Fame induction was announced.”

Nakamura served three stints totaling 14 years as the Canada national team judo coach between 1973 and 2004, including five Summer Olympics.

Nowadays, he’s still actively involved in the sport, running Club de judo Shidokan in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood. His dojo, recognized as the most successful in Canada, has been at its current location since 1985, according to published reports. Nakamura established the club in in 1973, five years after the then-26-year-old moved to Canada.

His judo training began at age 10 and spent his formative years learning the sport’s fundamentals at Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo.

Reflecting on his life’s work, Nakamura has expressed pride in incremental changes in Canadian judo and his role in helping those changes come to fruition.

“I’ve never regretted moving here,” Nakamura said in 2013, according to the Judo Canada website. “When I first arrived in Canada, judo was popular mainly in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta — provinces where a lot of Japanese immigrants lived. There was practically nothing in Quebec, it had to be developed from the ground up. For example, no Quebecois judoka were on the Canadian team at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, but things began to change in the 1980s.”

One of Nakamura’s former pupils, Louis Jani, is the president of Judo Canada’s High Performance Committee. Jani, an Olympian under Nakamura’s watch, attests to his mentor’s never-wavering commitment to the sport.

“I think Mr. Nakamura has always been 100 percent committed to his role as a coach, and that motivated the athletes,” Jani told Judo Canada. “He puts every ounce and fiber of his being into it for days, and we could see in him the same rigor and desire we had. … He is well-known in the world of judo, and he allowed us to improve even more by opening the doors of Japan, where we trained several times.”

Another Nakamura protégé, Nicolas Gill, now serves as Judo Canada’s CEO and high performance director. Gill earned an 86-kg division bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games and silver at 100 kg at the 2000 Sydney Games.)

“Mr. Nakamura and I started working together in 1985, when I joined the Shidokan. He had a huge impact on me, and he was a core element in my development. We’ve always stayed close, and I know that if I need him, he’ll be the best person to help me,” Gill told Judo Canada.

What planted the seed for Nakamura’s future move to Canada?

During the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Nakamura became friends with Canadian judoka Doug Rodgers, who collected the heavyweight silver medal here, Les Actualites, a Quebec newspaper reported.

The Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame ceremony will be held on Oct. 23 in Toronto. More than 400 individuals have been inducted into the COHF since 1949.

In the meantime, Nakamura insists he’ll keep busy.

“I don’t think about retirement. I enjoy what I’m doing, and now I’m training 6- to 17-year-olds at Shidokan to prepare them for the National Training Center. … My duties are not what they used to be, but I’m still getting future Olympians ready,” Nakamura told Judo Canada.