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A few weeks before the start of the Tokyo Games, Japan's Olympic committee backed off an earlier target of winning 30 gold medals due to the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Japan's athletes apparently did not get the memo.

These Olympics are just over a week old and Japan has already set a national record for gold medals won at a Summer Games — and there could be more on the horizon.

Japan set the new national mark on the fencing piste, where the men's epee team's victory gave the nation its 17th gold of the 2020 Games. Japan's previous high was 16, achieved at the Tokyo Games in 1964 and the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

But while the country's gold rush has been exhilarating for fans, it isn't entirely unexpected.

Host nations generally get a bump at the Olympics and, while Japan was impacted by the pandemic like the rest of the world, its athletes did not have to jump over the logistical hurdles of traveling from outside the nation to attend the Games.

Fencers Koki Kano, Kazuyasu Minobe, Masaru Yamada and Satoru Uyama celebrate with team members after winning gold in the men's epee team event on Friday. | REUTERS
Fencers Koki Kano, Kazuyasu Minobe, Masaru Yamada and Satoru Uyama celebrate with team members after winning gold in the men’s epee team event on Friday. | REUTERS

Gracenote, a data company that supplies statistical analysis and is a widely used medal predictor, projected ahead of the Games that Japan would claim a record 26 medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

Japan still has work to do to reach that mark, but has already had its most successful Summer Games ever.

Japan's new record — whatever it ends up being — has been built on a steady diet of judo, one of its strengths.

The nation's formidable stable of judoka were dubbed "Godzilla Japan" in 2019 and have done nothing but wreak havoc since the Games started. Naohisa Takato gave Japan its first gold with his victory in the men's under-60 kg final on July 24, and Akira Sone delivered the record-tying 16th in the women's over-78 kg final on Friday.

"Judoka from Japan have been winning gold medals from Day 1," Sone said. "That's really impressive and I wanted to follow suit. I went into my match with that determination."

Japan has won nine golds in judo so far, the most by a single nation at an Olympics. Japan set the previous mark of eight in 2004. The nine judo golds also represent the most by Japan in a single sport during an Olympics.

Japan has also largely cleaned up in sports new to the Olympic program. Yuto Horigome and Momiji Nishiya swept the skateboarding street titles, while Japan's softball team beat the United States to strike gold in the sport’s return after a 13-year absence.

Swimmer Yui Ohashi has won gold in the women's 400- and 200-meter individual medley at the Tokyo Games. | REUTERS
Swimmer Yui Ohashi has won gold in the women’s 400- and 200-meter individual medley at the Tokyo Games. | REUTERS

Swimmer Yui Ohashi is the lone multiple gold medalist so far, with wins in the women's 400- and 200-meter individual medley.

"Many athletes are winning gold medals, so it's not actually just me," Ohashi said after the 200 IM on July 28. "I don't really feel like I'm the star. I was really moved by the softball team's win yesterday. I think everybody is contributing and everyone is doing so well and I feel really inspired."

Japan's fencing triumph was an unexpected boost to its gold medal total, as was Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani's upset victory over Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen of China, the world's pre-eminent nation in the sport, in the table tennis mixed doubles final.

“China's walls are higher than you think," Mizutani said after the match on July 27. "This time, we finally found a way.”

While Daiki Hashimoto was not the favorite to win the men's all-around, his scores during qualifying placed him among the athletes to watch and he delivered a gold medal performance in the finals.

Some of the biggest surprises are the gold medals Japan won't win.

World badminton No. 1 Kento Momota lost to 38th-ranked South Korean Heo Kwang-hee in the group stage of the Tokyo Games.  | REUTERS
World badminton No. 1 Kento Momota lost to 38th-ranked South Korean Heo Kwang-hee in the group stage of the Tokyo Games. | REUTERS

Kento Momota, the world's No. 1 men’s badminton player, suffered perhaps the biggest upset of the Games when he lost to 38th-ranked South Korean Heo Kwang-hee in the group stage.

Naomi Osaka made an early exit from the women's tennis competition, with the world No. 2 falling to Czech Marketa Vondrousova in the third round.

Swimmer Daiya Seto, also among Japan's most popular Olympic athletes, only reached one final in his three events and failed to medal at all.

Despite the surprise losses, Japan is still in position to add to its record total.

Samurai Japan is favored to win gold in baseball, which was among the sports Japan was able to add to the program for these Olympics.

There could also be gold in karate, where Ryo Kiyuna has been even more dominant than the nation's judoka in men's kata.

Japan stands a good chance of taking gold in women's kata as well, with Kiyou Shimizu among the world's best.

The nation also has a pair of former world champions in karate's kumite discipline in Miho Miyahara and Ayumi Uekusa.

Kenichiro Fumita is the reigning 60-kg Greco-Roman wrestling world champion. | REUTERS
Kenichiro Fumita is the reigning 60-kg Greco-Roman wrestling world champion. | REUTERS

There could be more gold on the wrestling mat, where Japan boasts a solid team of female wrestlers led by Risako Kawai. Japanese fans can also pin their hopes on Kenichiro Fumita, the reigning 60-kg Greco-Roman wrestling world champion.

Then there is Tomoa Narasaki in sports climbing, who could also deliver.

Japan is home to the reigning world champion in the 20-km race walk, Toshikazu Yamanishi and a good performance in Sapporo could add to the gold rush.

Japan was tipped to do well at these Games and has gotten the job done so far. With a lot of events left on the docket, the country is in a strong position to take its gold medal tally even higher before the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

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