Skip to main content

Judo 101: Olympic history

Ronda Rousey at 2008 Olympics
Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Judo 101: Olympic history

What has happened in judo since its Olympic debut in 1964?

Jump to a section: 1964 | 1972 | 1976 | 1980 | 1984 | 1988 | 1992 | 1996 | 2000 | 2004 | 2008 | 2012

Isao Okano at 1964 Olympics

One of three Japanese judokas to win gold in 1964, Isao Okano defeated Germany's Wolfgang Hofmann in the final round. Credit: IOC

Tokyo, 1964
Japan won the first three judo classes contested at the 1964 Tokyo Games, but the fourth - the now-discontinued "open" event - saw the gold go to Dutchman Anotnius Geesink. Also a three-time national champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, Geesink later became a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Munich, 1972
The Netherlands' Willem Ruska was the only judoka to win two gold medals in the same Olympics. In Munich, after winning the heavyweight division (93kg/205 lbs or more), he came back nine days later to prevail in the open event with a pin of Soviet Vitaly Kusnetzov in the final.

Pak Jong-Gil vs. Sumio Endo at 1976 Olympics

The 7-foot Pak Jong-Gil (left) was toppled by the 5-foot-6 Sumio Endo (right) at the 1976 Games. Pak finished seventh, Endo won bronze. Credit: IOC

Montreal, 1976
Standing 7 feet tall and tipping the scales at 359 pounds, North Korea's Pak Jong-Gil finished seventh in the open division and lost in the heavyweight repechage. Among those who defeated Pak was Japan's Sumio Endo, who was 5-foot-6, 259 pounds.

Moscow, 1980
Italy's Ezio Gamba was among 160 Italian athletes - but the only judoka - who didn't follow the anti-Soviet boycott of the Moscow Games. Britain's Neil Adams no doubt wished Gamba were less rebellious. In the lightweight final, the 21-year-old Gamba, who travelled to Moscow by himself, defeated Adams on a unanimous decision to give Italy its first gold medal in judo.

Los Angeles, 1984
When Japan announced it would boycott the 1980 Moscow Games, judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita made a tearful, and ultimately unsuccessful, plea on television to reverse the decision. Four years later, he entered the 1984 Olympics as a huge favorite with 193 wins, one tie and no losses since 1977. Despite feeling the pain of a torn calf muscle suffered earlier in the tournament, he defeated Egyptian Mohamed Ali Rashwan in the final to claim gold. At the medal ceremony, Yamashita needed Rashwan's help climbing to the podium's top step.

Seoul, 1988
Recovering from a backbone injury, South Korea's Kim Jae-yup lost to Yun Hyun at the Olympic Trials, but the Korea Judo Association put Kim on the team for Seoul anyway. After winning gold, Kim said, "I apologize to Yun and his mother. My gold medal is won together by them and me." He then presumably had a celebratory feast - just to make weight for the Games, Kim had to lose 13 pounds in 20 days, which he did by eating one meal a day consisting of porridge and raw fish.

Kim Jae-Yup at 1988 Olympics

South Korea's Kim Jae-Yup (behind) defeated the United States' Kevin Asano (front) to win gold in Seoul. Credit: IOC

After South Korea failed to win a medal at the 1987 World Championships, coach Chang Eun-Kyung employed what he called "Devil Training" to develop his judokas' "fighting spirit" and "guts." Not wanting to be embarrassed at his nation's own Games, Chang led Olympians-to-be into a cemetery at midnight and forced them to sit by themselves for at least an hour to meditate. The peculiar preparation proved worthwhile when the host nation was the only country to win two gold medals in judo that year.

Barcelona, 1992
In the Olympic debut of women's judo in Barcelona, Yael Arad earned the silver medal in the half middleweight division. She dedicated Israel's first-ever Olympic medal to the 11 Israeli Olympians killed by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Games. Other "firsts" of note: Spain's Miriam Blasco and Almudena Munoz became their nation's first two female Olympic champions, and Hulya Senyurt became the first Turkish woman to earn an Olympic medal (bronze).

The runner-up in women's extra lightweight at the Barcelona Games was Japan's Ryoko Tamura (now Tani), the youngest medalist ever in judo, at the age of 16 years, 331 days. The 4-foot, 9.5-inch Tamura went on to win six world titles, another Olympic silver (as a heavy favorite in 1996) and an Olympic gold (2000).

Atlanta, 1996
The men's heavyweight judo division in Atlanta promised a clash of Goliaths named David: the 1992 Olympic gold medalist David Khakhaleishvili of Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the Peach State) and two-time defending world champion David Douillet of France. But Khakhaleishvili was disqualified for missing his weigh-in after team officials mistakenly took him to the Georgia World Congress Center instead of the Olympic Village. In his rival's absence, Douillet prevailed.

Coming off a bronze-medal showing at the 1991 World Championships, American Jimmy Pedro brought podium potential to the 1992 Olympics. Instead, the Massachusetts native was eliminated in the third round. Four years later in Atlanta, again entering the Games having earned bronze at the previous Worlds (1995), Pedro delivered, rallying after a second-round defeat to win four repechage matches and take bronze. In Sydney, Pedro was favored for gold but finished fifth.

Hillary Wolf, whose film credits include "Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2" (she played Macaulay Culkin's sister) competed in judo's extra lightweight division at the Atlanta Games. This was no fluke or publicity stunt; Wolf placed fifth at the 1995 World Championships. But in Atlanta, she fell in the third round. Four years later in Sydney, Wolf lost in the first round to eventual bronze medalist Kye Sun-Hui of North Korea and then dropped her first consolation match.

David Douillet at 2000 Olympics

France's David Douillet (white) won his second straight gold medal - and third medal overall - with a victory over Japan's Shinichi Shinohara (blue) at the 2000 Games. Credit: IOC

Sydney, 2000
Japanese athletes claimed four of the 14 judo gold medals. Japan's Kosei Inoue dedicated his half heavyweight victory to his late mother, whose picture he raised over his head as he stood on the medal podium. Also, defending champion Tadahiro Nomura needed just 14 seconds to "ippon" his opponent in the final of the extra lightweight division.

Hungarian-born Australian Maria Pekli lost in the women's lightweight semifinals to eventual gold medalist Isabel Fernandez. But her bronze medal - earned in a split decision - was the host country's first of any color in judo since 1964.

Tadahiro Nomura at 2004 Olympics

A common sight at the 2004 Games: Japanese judokas, such as extra lightweight Tadahiro Nomura, topping the podium. Credit: IOC

Athens, 2004
Jimmy Pedro of the United States defeated France's Daniel Fernandes by "ippon" to win a bronze medal in men's lightweight (73kg/161 lbs) judo at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall. The 33-year-old from Methuen, Massachusetts originally retired after finishing fifth in Sydney in 2000. Afterwards, he said he drew inspiration for a comeback from watching Derek Parra win gold in speed skating at the Salt Lake Games in 2002. "I was sitting in the stadium that night, telling my wife on the phone that I needed to go to the Olympics again," Pedro said. "Since then it's been the most enjoyable two years of my life."

Japan was by far the most dominant country at the Athens Games, winning eight gold medals. In total, they netted a medal in 10 of the 14 weight classes. They were particularly strong in the women's divisions, with six medals (including five golds) in seven weight classes. Extra lightweight Tadahiro Nomura won his third consecutive Olympic championship, making him the first - and only - judoka to win three gold medals.

Ronda Rousey at 2008 Olympics

In 2008, future UFC star Ronda Rousey earned a bronze medal at the Beijing Games. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Beijing, 2008
Ronda Rousey, who was being coached by Jimmy Pedro, made history when she took home bronze in the 70kg class, becoming the first woman to win a judo medal for the U.S. since the sport's introduction at the 1992 Games. Years later, Rousey became a cultural sensation after crossing over into mixed martial arts. She won her first 12 professional fights, with many of her victories coming via first-round submission thanks to her dominant armbar - a technique that she had perfected during her time competing in judo.

Kayla Harrison and Jimmy Pedro at 2012 Olympics

With the help of USA Judo coach Jimmy Pedro, Kayla Harrison struck gold in London. Credit: Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

London, 2012
The United States finally captured its first Olympic gold medal in judo thanks to 22-year-old Kayla Harrison. A former training partner of 2008 bronze medalist Ronda Rousey, Harrison was pitted against Great Britain's Gemma Gibbons in the final round of the women's 78kg (172 lbs) division. With the crowd firmly rooting for Gibbons, Harrison scored two yukos during the match to take the victory. Another U.S. judoka, Marti Malloy, added to the medal haul with a bronze in the women's 57kg (125.5 lbs) weight class. Like Rousey in 2008, both fighters were coached by Jimmy Pedro.

The men's 81kg division featured a rematch of the 2008 final when South Korea's Kim Jae-Bum and Germany's Ole Bischof once again faced off in the Gold Medal Match. In 2008, Bischof had defeated Kim to win gold, but this time it was Kim scoring two yukos in London to dethrone Bischof. With the win, Kim became the second South Korean judoka ever to win titles at the Olympics, World Championships, Asian Games and Asian Championships.

More from {{firstLevel.more_from}}




See More Coverage

More from {{secondLevel.more_from}}

More from Olympics