Naohisa Takato savored the silence. It was not that he did not miss hearing the cheers of the crowd, it was just that the lack of spectators at these Olympic Games allowed him to pick on other things while he competed.
While there may not have been any fans in the famed Nippon Budokan, it’s a safe bet plenty were watching — and cheering — from somewhere as Takato began what Japan hopes will be a gold rush at these games.
The three-time world champion became a first-time Olympic gold medalist on Saturday, defeating Taiwan’s Yang Yung Wei in the men’s judo under-60 kg final to give Japan its first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
Takato’s victory came shortly after Funa Tonaki claimed silver in the women’s under-48 kg to give Japan it’s first medal of the games. The pair train with the same company judo team.
“We were hoping to both win gold,” Takato said. “I was able to win the first one for Japan. I’m glad that I could help fire up the Japan team by winning the first gold.”
Takato won via ippon in the Golden Score extra period after Yang was called for a penalty that ended the match.
Yang had to settle for silver, but became the first athlete from Taiwan to win an Olympic judo medal.
“It means a great deal, he said. “I was aiming for a gold medal from the start, so I’m not entirely satisfied with the result.”
Takato realized a dream with his victory. Achieving it at the Budokan made the win that much more meaningful.
“I’ve been dreaming of winning since I was a child,” he said. “Being able to compete here is something I’m proud of.”
There were no fans present to celebrate with him, with spectators barred from the majority of the Games due to COVID-19.
Nerves got the best of Takato at the Rio Games in 2016, where he left with a bronze medal.
After being selected to the national team for the 2020 Games, he said one of his goals was to compete with more poise on the mat.
“I was fixated on winning,” Takato said. “The more I trained, the more focused on the gold medal I became. That made me stronger mentally.”
He said he was calm going into the final.
“I wasn’t nervous because I had trained hard,” he said. “I was prepared.”
Takato’s victory gave Japan its fifth under-60 gold medal, which extends the country’s record. Japan’s powerful judo team, dubbed Godzilla Japan, is expected to do well at the Tokyo Games and has a gold and silver medal after the first day of competition.