Tears of joy amid Japan’s good start reveal hardship of road to Olympic gold

Athletes from Japan are off to a good start at the Tokyo Olympics, with a rush of medals centered on the nation’s fortes of judo and swimming.

The first to win a gold medal was judoka Naohisa Takato, who delivered in the men’s under 60-kilogram category. At the previous Summer Games, the 2016 Rio Olympics, Takato was the gold medal favorite, but he ended up with a bronze, so this Olympics was a bid for redemption.

In the semifinals, Takato won an intense battle that lasted more than 11 minutes, followed by the final in which it took extra time before he emerged as the winner. “I wasn’t able to win boldly,” a tearful Takato said, “but this is my judo.”

The men’s judo team suffered the humiliation of winning no gold medals at the London Olympics and grabbed only two golds at the subsequent Rio Games. The pressure must have been enormous for the judoka to lead off the events for an Olympics held at home. Under such circumstances, winning gold medals deserves admiration.

Hifumi Abe in the under 66-kilogram category and his younger sister Uta Abe in the under 52-kilogram category had declared that they, as siblings, would earn gold medals and have in reality achieved the feat. It was nothing short of admirable. The hope is that there will be further achievements in judo, a sport that was born in Japan.

In the women’s 400-meter individual medley, swimmer Yui Ohashi won the gold medal in her first Olympics. She took the lead in the race in the breaststroke, which had been her weak point, and swam to the finish line in an impressive performance.

She dispelled the foul mood that had been hanging over the swimming team ever since Daiya Seto, who had been expected to win a gold medal in the men’s version of the event, failed to qualify for the final the day before. “Many people supported me,” Ohashi said amid tears of joy. “I am truly grateful.”

In skateboarding’s debut as an Olympic sport, Yuto Horigome became the first gold medalist, winning the men’s street event. These energetic athletes are sure to give momentum to the rest of the events.

The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year due to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Athletes have been struggling to control their feelings and manage their physical conditions. The tears of the athletes reveal the hardships they have gone through to reach the stage they dreamed of and their gratitude for the support they have received from people around them.

Although there were no spectators at the venues due to measures against virus infections, touching moments and emotions can be fully conveyed even through the TV screen. Many viewers will be filled with excitement watching the rest of the Games.

On the other hand, there were some upsets. Gymnast Kohei Uchimura unexpectedly fell while competing on the men’s horizontal bar and did not qualify for the final. Hiromi Miyake, who competed in the women’s 49-kilogram weightlifting event, failed to register a total and announced her intention to retire.

Both of them are leading athletes who have won multiple medals in past Olympics. Although the results were unfortunate, their accomplishments will not fade.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 26, 2021.