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Japan swept Thursday’s judo events at the Tokyo Olympics, with Shori Hamada winning a gold medal in the women’s under 78-kilogram event and Aaron Wolf claiming the men’s under 100-kg title at Nippon Budokan.

Hamada defeated Madeleine Malonga of France shortly before Wolf completed an outstanding performance by the Olympic host, prevailing in a nail-biting final over South Korean Cho Gu-ham.

Wolf became the first Japanese to win the Olympic title in the weight division since men’s head coach Kosei Inoue achieved the feat in 2000.

The 30-year-old Hamada, the 2018 world champion who was making her Olympic debut, gave Japan’s women their third gold medal at these games, joining Uta Abe at 52 kg and Chizuru Arai at 70 kg as champions.

The win gives Japan its largest Olympic women’s judo haul since the country claimed five golds at the 2004 games in Athens.

Japan also saw its overall gold medal haul at the Tokyo Games reach 15, eight contributed by its judoka, just one fewer than its record of 16 set at the 2004 Athens Games and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Also in his Olympic debut, the 25-year-old Wolf saw his bout against Cho go into golden score with both men in danger of losing after receiving two penalties each for noncombativity. A third penalty in extra time would have decided the match.

Wolf, who earlier had beaten Rio Olympics 90-kg silver medalist Varlam Liparteliani of Georgia in the semis, was able to emerge with an ippon win more than nine minutes into the match using a blistering inner leg throw that sent his opponent onto his back. Jorge Fonseca of Portugal and the Russian Olympic Committee’s Niiaz Iliasov took bronze medals.

“My judo is the gritty kind, so I’m happy I was able to stay true to that to the end,” Wolf said. “Nobody trains more than me, so I knew that the closer the match was the more I would have the upper hand. I just believed in myself.”

A late bloomer known for her superior mat work and submission techniques, Hamada won the world title in her debut in 2018 at the age of 28 and claimed the silver a year later at the worlds in Tokyo.

The 78-kg final was over almost as soon as it started. Malonga made a fatal error of judgment when she attempted a throw that allowed Hamada to force her to the mat and into a four-quarter submission for ippon. Germany’s Anna-Maria Wagner and Brazilian Mayra Aguiar won bronze medals.

France's Madeleine Malonga (white) and Japan's Shori Hamada compete in the judo women's under 78-kg gold-medal bout at Nippon Budokan on Thursday. | AFP-JIJI
France’s Madeleine Malonga (white) and Japan’s Shori Hamada compete in the judo women’s under 78-kg gold-medal bout at Nippon Budokan on Thursday. | AFP-JIJI

“I’m still in disbelief but I’m really happy,” said Hamada following the medals ceremony. “During the matches, it felt the same as other international competitions, but it really felt special when they gave me the gold medal.”

Despite her technical prowess and position atop the weight division making her the subject of intense scrutiny, Hamada said she was determined to claim gold no matter what.

“I was able to showcase everything I trained for. I’m happy with my performance,” Hamada said. “It doesn’t matter how much they study me. I’ve been training to be even better and I was able to display that today.”

In the quarterfinals, Hamada scored an ippon with a stranglehold technique against the ROC’s Aleksandra Babintseva, and she later made quick work of Wagner, placing the 2021 world champion in a back-lying perpendicular armbar for ippon in the semis.

She opened her campaign in the round of 16 by tossing Poland’s Beata Pacut to the mat with a corner drop throw before finishing off with a yoko-shiho-gatame submission hold.

Noriko Anno won the under 78-kg title in 2004, but the Japanese women were eliminated in the early stages of the judo competition in all three Olympics that followed.

Wolf, who has an American father and Japanese mother, dominated the competition, eliminating Mukhammadkarim Khurramov of Uzbekistan in his first match by ippon and booking a berth in the semifinals by dispatching Israel’s Peter Paltchik with a waza-ari inner leg sweep in the quarterfinals.

Wolf started practicing judo at the age of 6 and won his first world title as a senior at Tokai University in 2017. He had to take an extended break after undergoing surgery on his right knee in 2019.

Asked how it felt to win an Olympic gold medal at Nippon Budokan, the “sacred ground” he has competed at since he was child, Wolf said, “I’ve competed so many times here since I was a kid, so it is quite an emotional moment fulfilling my goal of winning the gold medal at the Olympics here.”

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