Munich 1972, -80kg: Shinobu Sekine (JPN)

After having failed to win gold in the first two days of the Munich Olympics, the Japanese contingent was understandably nervous about the third day.

Their representative was Shinobu Sekine, a police officer from Chuo University was a rival of the charismatic Isao Okano. Having seen Okano win gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Sekine set his sights on representing Japan in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. As judo was not included in the program, he had to wait until four years later.

By 1972, Sekine was already 28 years old and had not distinguished himself internationally, coming in only third (bronze) at the 1971 World Championships. However, he had won the All-Japan Championships that year, which was quite an achievement considering this was an open weight event. Like Okano, Sekine was a -80kg player. Both of them hold the distinction of being the lightest players on record to have won the All-Japan’s.

In Munich, Sekine had a good draw and easily defeated his first three opponents, from Portugal, Hungary and New Zealand, with a lethal mix of kouchi-gari and tai-otoshi. He encountered problems with his next opponent though. South Korea’s Oh Seung-lip went on the offensive from the start and Sekine wasn’t able to use his usual combination attacks. Oh won on a decision.

Under today’s rules that would have dashed any hopes for Japan to finally win its first judo gold but the unusual repechage rules of the time allowed Sekine to claw his way to the final, which he did by beating Brian Jacks of Great Britain and Lutz Lischka of Austria. This meant he would face South Korea’s Oh again, in the final.

As with their earlier match, Oh attacked relentlessly, making it hard for Sekine to do his usual judo. This went on for most of the match and it looked like the Korean was about win by decision again. However, in the dying seconds of the match, a desperate Sekine threw in a tai-otoshi that took Oh to the ground. It wasn’t enough for a score but it was very close. In the hantei that ensued, the corner judges were split but the Dutch referee rightly awarded the match to Sekine. Although he was mainly on the defensive for most of the match, it was Sekine who came closest to scoring. It was a very narrow victory but Japan finally got its first judo gold of the Games.