On paper, Japan had one of the strongest Olympics team for Seoul 1988. At U60kg was World and Olympic Champion Shinji Hosokawa; at U65kg was the reigning World Champion Yosuke Yamamoto; at U71kg was the brilliant Toshihiko Koga; at U78kg was the reigning World Champion Hirotaka Okada; at U95kg was double World Champion Hitoshi Sugai; and at +95kg was the World and Olympic Champion Hitoshi Saito.
The only chink in the Japanese armour was Akinobu Osako, who was the top player at U86kg in Japan but did not have an international track record.
With a line-up like that, Japan was expected to bring home many gold medals. But as each day passed, it increasingly looked as if Japan might for the first time, in the history of the Games, would end up with no gold medals.
At U60kg, Hosokawa was the defending champion. He easily breezed through to the semifinal but was shockingly defeated by Kevin Asano (USA) by a hantei. This was the first major upset of the Games for Japan.
Everyone was excited to see Yamamoto, Japan’s U65kg representative, as he had put on a brilliant display of judo at the 1987 Essen World Championships, just a year before. It was again in the semifinal that Japan’s gold medal hopes were dashed.
The semifinal match between Yamamoto and Poland’s seoi-nage specialist Janusz Pawlowski was to be but a foregone conclusion, except that it wasn’t. Initially it seemed like Yamamoto was on his way to the final, scoring a koka, yuko and waza-ari against Pawlowski. Then, with just 36 seconds left in the match, the Pole dropped under Yamamoto and threw him with a drop seoi-nage for ippon.
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