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Takanori Nagase defeated Mongolia’s Saeid Mollaei in the men’s 81-kilogram final, snatching another judo gold for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.

Nagase, an Olympic bronze medalist in Rio five years ago, became the first Japanese to win this event since Makoto Takimoto achieved the feat at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Five-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, meanwhile, did not disappoint as she won a rematch of the Rio Games final against Tina Trstenjak of Slovenia to capture her maiden Olympic title in the women’s 63-kg class.

Japan's Takanori Nagase reacts after winning the gold-medal bout. | AFP-JIJI
Japan’s Takanori Nagase reacts after winning the gold-medal bout. | AFP-JIJI

Japan has won five gold medals at the Tokyo tournament, including all four of the men’s weight classes contested so far. The four men’s golds are Japan’s most ever in the seven weight divisions and matched the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where eight weight classes were contested, including the open category.

Nagase had his work cut out to survive some heated battles against the world’s best, his win the culmination of a long road back from a knee injury.

In his final bout at Nippon Budokan, Nagase was drenched with sweat after staving off relentless attacks from the more powerful Mollaei, finally toppling his opponent with a well-timed foot wheel technique, 1 minute, 43 seconds into golden score.

“I fell short at Rio and the five years since have been hard, but I’m really glad I put in the work to get here,” said Nagase,” who claimed his first world title in 2015. “My strong point is my ability to stay mentally strong and keep attacking until the end, and I’m happy I was able to make use of that.”

In the semis, Nagase faced another big challenge against reigning world champion Matthias Casse of Belgium, needing to fight into the golden score before deciding it with a seoi-nage throw to score a waza-ari by the slimmest of margins when his opponent made a vain attempt to twist onto his side as he went head over heels.

Victory was all the sweeter for Nagase after the extended break he was forced to take from the sport due to a ligament tear he suffered in his right knee at the 2017 world championships, an injury that required surgery. After more than a year away, Nagase returned to win four straight titles at international tournaments in 2019 to secure an Olympic berth.

In a television interview conducted in front of empty grandstands, Nagase said, “I really couldn’t have won this gold medal by myself. I’m filled with gratitude for all of the support from so many people.”

Nagase beat Vedat Albayrak of Turkey in his opening bout, outpointing the reigning European champion in extra time, before sending Italy’s Christian Parlati to the mat with a hip throw in his next match. He scored a waza-ari against German Dominic Ressel in the golden score, using an outside leg hook to reach the semifinals.

Japan's Takanori Nagase (white) and Mongolia's Saeid Mollaei compete in the judo men's under 81-kg division on Tuesday in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI
Japan’s Takanori Nagase (white) and Mongolia’s Saeid Mollaei compete in the judo men’s under 81-kg division on Tuesday in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI

Meanwhile, Japan’s women were unusually absent from the mats Tuesday evening after claiming three medals on the three previous nights. Miku Tashiro, who had been a medal hopeful, bowed out in her second bout of the day, losing by ippon to Poland’s Agata Ozdoba-Blach in the 63-kg division.

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