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Ryoko Tamura Wins Tenth Straight Judo Championship

January 26, 2000

Tamura holding her trophy in Fukuoka. (Jiji Press)

At the Fukuoka Women's Judo Championships held in December 1999, Ryoko Tamura came out victorious in the 48-kilogram class for the tenth year in a row. This unprecedented feat came only two months after she had become the first Japanese female to win four straight victories at the World Judo Championships, held in Birmingham, Britain. At age 25, Tamura is unrivaled in strength and can safely be said to be in the prime of her athletic life. As she aims for the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in fall 2000, her only anxiety is the injury on her left little finger that she suffered during the final match of the Fukuoka contest.

Tamura's Stamping Ground
The Fukuoka Women's Judo Championships have special meaning for this athlete. In 1990, Tamura was a 15-year-old student attending a local middle school in Fukuoka Prefecture. That year she took part in the international event, becoming champion--the youngest ever--on her first try. Seeing the petite girl hurling much taller foreign rivals to the floor, many Japanese were reminded of the heroine of a popular judo cartoon, Yawara-chan. Thus Tamura came to be known by that nickname, and a real-life Yawara-chan legend was born.

Tamura's tenth consecutive victory at her home ground, Fukuoka, did not come as easily as her first. She lacked her usual sharpness from round one of the tournament, instead having to rely more on tactical maneuvers. Tamura won the final match against her long-standing rival, Amarilis Savon of Cuba, on points, but she hurt her left hand during the bout.

After a close examination she was told that she had fractured a cartilage and severed a tendon in her little finger and that the injury needed two months to fully heal. The doctor recommended surgery, but Tamura, having reservations about allowing her finger to be cut open, decided to let it heal on its own.

Going for the Gold in Sydney
With her injured finger securely bandaged, Tamura is now warming up for the All Japan Women's Judo Championships to be held in April 2000, the results of which will determine who will go on the Olympic judo team from Japan. Sydney will be her third Olympic Games. Having been defeated in the final round at both the Barcelona and Atlanta Games in 1992 and 1996, Tamura has her mind firmly set on winning the long-awaited gold medal at Sydney.

"I'm sure that the experience of having won ten tournaments in a row at Fukuoka will help my performance at Sydney. I think of my injury, too, as an ordeal that will bear fruit at the Olympics," says the ever-positive Tamura. Will the diminutive athlete be able to overcome the challenge and finally become an Olympic gold medalist? People across Japan have their eyes fixed on the national heroine's every move.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.