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The best judo nations in the world
18 Aug 2020 17:00
Being born in a country doesn’t automatically mean that you’re good at its national sports. Not all British are good at soccer, not all Americans were born with a baseball bat in their hands, and not all Japanese are good at Judo. But when a sport has an especially large number of practitioners in a country, it is expected to have the best-performing athletes in the world. In the case of judo, this country is Japan that has given the world 39 Olympic Gold medalists over the years.
Judo, in turn, is practiced all over the world, even as a virtual sport in some cases - although its role is usually secondary to other, flashier, and more popular disciplines. In real life, in turn, it is honored as it deserved and practiced at a high level all over the globe. Outside Japan, these are the countries that are best at it (measured by the Olympic gold medals won by their athletes).
As of 2018, judo was the fourth most popular sport in France after association football, rugby football, and tennis, with around 600,000 participants. It was introduced to the country by Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais who, upon meeting Jigoro Kano in 1933, was encouraged to study the sport under Mikinosuke Kawaishi. Three years later, Feldenkrais earned his first black belt, then encouraged Kawaishi to leave London to teach Judo in France, founding the Jiu-Jitsu Club de France.
The French Judo Federation currently has more than 600,000 members, most of them children under 12. The country is home to Teddy Riner, the first and only judoka ever to win ten World Championship medals. Two of France’s 14 Olympic gold medals were won by him. The heavyweights have a reputation with David Douillet and Angelo Parisi.
South Korea has given the world one of its most popular martial arts - taekwondo, practiced by about 1% of the world’s population. But even if there are several local martial arts, the country still adopted judo - and it’s pretty good at it, with a total of 43 Olympic medals - 11 gold medals - under its (black) belt.
Another judo powerhouse with 36 Olympic medals (6 gold) is Cuba. The country is in a special situation, with no professional sports - all sports in the country are considered “amateur”.
The “father of Cuban judo” is Andrés Kolychkine Martínez who revived the sport in the country in the early 1950s, and created the “Cuban Judo Federation”. One of the most prominent personalities in the history of Cuban judo is Takahiko Ishikawa, who helped the athletes in Havana reach an elite level around the same time.
The Soviet Union was a commanding presence in the world of sports until its demise in the 1990s - and Russia, although surrounded by scandals about doping, is carrying on its legacy. The two entities have amassed a total of 39 Olympic medals at judo (10 gold medals) over the years.
Judo and sambo (a Soviet martial art heavily influenced by judo and catch wrestling) are especially popular in the country since the emergence of President Vladimir Putin, a practitioner of both (he is an 8 dan in Judo). But his influence was not enough for the athletes to return to their former glory - it took the hard work of Italian expert (and 1980 Olympic champion), Ezio Gamba, to bring the Russian national team up to speed. His hard work had its results: Russian athletes returned to the top of the podium in 2012 and 2016.
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Mirko Pinto (ITA)