Chizuru Arai didn’t use up all of her energy to win an epic, prolonged semifinal match.

She saved just enough to get the job done in the Olympic final.

Arai, the world champion in 2017 and 2018, capped her Olympic debut by defeating Austria’s Michaela Polleres to win the gold medal in the women’s judo under-70 kg competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday.

“Honestly this is something I always want to get,” Arai said. “I was able to get the gold medal in my hand and I am extremely happy.”

Japan’s judoka have been in dominant form so far at these Games. Japanese athletes have claimed six golds, one silver and one bronze during the judo competition.

“We were able to host the Olympics in our home country, so there is a lot of attention from around the world on us,” Arai said. “That means each of us is really putting a lot into this and we are winning bouts. For me, I felt like my goal was to go for the top and that’s what I felt when I stepped on the mat.”

Arai scored a waza-ari with a Ko-soto-gari throw just over a minute into the match and went on to win in regular time. That stood in stark contrast to her semifinal victory.

Polleres was the more rested of the finalists despite competing in the second semifinal. She punched her ticket for the final by defeating the Netherlands’ Sanne van Dijke via waza-ari in regular time.

Arai, meanwhile, had to survive a grueling and protracted battle against ROC athlete Madina Taimazova.

Arai went for submissions, throws and pins, but could not keep Taimazova down. The Russian competed with a bandage that barely covered a black and swollen right eye and gave a gutsy performance.

Japan's Chizuru Arai competes during the women's under-70 kg judo competition at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan on Wednesday. | AFP-JIJI
Japan’s Chizuru Arai competes during the women’s under-70 kg judo competition at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan on Wednesday. | AFP-JIJI

Arai had Taimazova on the verge of defeat on a number of occasions, only for the Russian to twist and contort her body to avoid being pinned. Taimazova didn’t limit herself to being an escape artist. She also went out in search of the win on a number of occasions, forcing Arai to block her attempts at throwing techniques.

“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Arai said. “It’s just that she was very strong and was doing her best.”

Those lucky enough to attend the match — a crowd that looked to be made up of volunteers and Self-Defense Forces personnel on breaks, team members and staff and various officials — began to react to each twist the match took the longer it continued.

The two judoka tried to throw each other late and went tumbling over, leading some to believe the match was done — including the Russian coach who began to celebrate.

They went on, however, until Arai finally gained enough space to apply a choke and cause Taimazova to pass out. Arai won via ippon with a okuri-eri-jime choke technique in 16 minutes, 41 seconds.

“I wanted to win,” Taimazova said. “I didn’t succeed but I will keep trying.”

Those in attendance gave a big round of applause for Taimazova as she was helped off the mat.

Taimazova, with her right eye freshly bandaged, returned to the mat and defeated Croatian Barbara Matic to take one of the bronze medals.

“I’ve always dreamed about this and I’m happy to win this medal,” Taimazova said. “I wanted a gold medal but I have a bronze medal and I think this is also a very good outcome.

The other bronze went to Van Dijke, who beat German Giovanna Scoccimarro.

“It’s been childhood dream for me to win an Olympic medal,” Van Dijke said. “I would’ve liked a different color to be honest, but maybe next time.”

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