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Where EAST meets the Northwest

FIRST-RATE FLIPPING. Haruka Tachimoto of Japan, in white, competes against Kelita Zupancic of Canada during the womenís 70-kilogram judo competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Japan swept the judo gold medals in Rio, taking the top spot in both the menís and womenís middleweight divisions. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #16 (August 15, 2016), page 9.

Japan sweeps judo golds at Rio Olympics in middleweights

By Maria Cheng

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO ó Japan swept the judo gold medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, taking the top spot in both menís and womenís middleweight divisions.

Haruka Tachimoto struck gold first by defeating triple Colombia world champion Yuri Alvear in the womenís 70-kilogram division.

Despite being penalized for passivity in the first minutes of the final ó and a partisan crowd cheering against her ó Tachimoto managed to pin Alvear to the ground for 20 seconds, scoring an ippon victory that automatically ends the bout.

Alvear, 30, won a bronze at the London Olympics. She was Colombiaís flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

After a disappointing seventh-place finish at the London Games, Tachimoto said she refocused her style, training in Mongolia and England, and honing a more defensive, counter-attacking style that she used to defeat Alvear.

The womenís bronze medals were won by Britainís Sally Conway and Germanyís Laura Vargas Koch. A short time after the womenís medal competition ended, Japanís Mashu Baker took the judo gold in the menís 90-kilogram division.

The second-seeded Baker, 21, defeated Georgiaís Varlam Liparteliani in a cagey final in which Baker managed to score only once. Like Tachimoto, he too was booed by the crowd, which expressed disapproval that Baker appeared to be withdrawing from the fight in its final minutes. But with Liparteliani failing to score, Bakerís one throw was enough to win.

Baker, whose father is American, trained at the Kodokan, the spiritual home of the Japanese martial art and its most famed dojo after starting judo at age six. Baker has won four judo Grand Slam titles and took a bronze at last yearís world championships. He was raised by his mother in Japan and said he was dedicating his gold medal to her. She travelled with him to Rio.

"To be an Olympic champion was my dream when I was young, so Iím very happy now," he said. Baker acknowledged that he fought defensively in the latter part of the fight, seeking to protect his slight lead by not risking being attacked by Liparteliani.

Liparteliani was seeded fifth and fought at the London Olympics, but was knocked out in the second round. The current loss left him in tears; he struggled to maintain his composure through the medal ceremony.

The menís bronze medals were won by South Koreaís Donghan Gwak and Chinaís Xunzhao Cheng.

Japanís two golds put the country atop the judo medal table, adding to the gold already won by Shohei Ono in the menís 73-kilogram division. Although Japan dominated for years at the Olympics in the martial art it developed, the country had its worst performance at the London Games, where it won only one gold.

"We have to perform graciously and courageously because Japan is the home of judo," Tachimoto said after her win. "Judo is one of the most important sports to the Japanese people, and they expect gold medals."

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