There was never any doubt from the moment that Kosei Inoue stepped off the mat at 21 September 2000 in Sydney, 18 seconds after his first contest had begun, that Kosei Inoue of Japan would dominate the limelight on this special day of the 2000 Sydney Judo competition. JudoInside was with Inoue in a closed area just in advance of the press conference to share some magic moments of that day. In my imagination Inoue launched one of the most beautiful ippons ever. We look back to 21 September 2000, drawn up by Barnaby Chesterman on behalf of The World of Judo Magazine, 20 years ago.
Many people had been waiting all week just to watch this legend-in-the-making and he didn't disappoint with a string of stunning ippon victories that carried this prodigious talent to the Olympic crown. And in a fitting tribute to his late mother, Inoue held a picture of her above his head as he stood on the podium with his shinny gold medal around his neck. "I wanted to win this medal for my mother," he said. "So I want to dedicate this victory to her. She always encouraged me to compete in Judo and I want to remember her with this medal."
A year ago he stunned the World with a convincing victory at the World championships in Birmingham where he beat many top fighters such as Stephane Traineau of France. Here in Sydney, though, he was always going to be the closest thing to a dead cert.
His first two fights combined lasted less than thirty seconds against Yosvani Kessel of Cuba and Daniel Gowing of New Zealand. Kessel succumbed to Ouchi-gari and Gowing to Seoi-nage, and Inoue hadn't even unleashed his main weapon yet. His quarter-final and semi-final opponents put up greater resistance but still ultimately fell to his natural gift. Ariel Zeevi of Israel caused a few problems for the World champion and lasted nearly two and a half minutes. When the killer blow came, though, it was as exciting as it was expected. The Israeli was bowled over for Ippon with Uchi-mata.
Luigi Guido of Italy also put up spirited resistance next but he was constantly punished for a series of desperate attacks designed more at delaying the inevitable than causing an upset. Having accumulated penalties to Keikoku, he was thrown for Waza-ari with Uchi-mata and left to fight for bronze. The final against the Barcelona bronze medallist, Nicholas Gill of Canada, brought back recent memories of their bout at the Tournoi de Paris in February. That time Gill lasted 31 seconds so he was out to foil Inoue's Uchi-mata this time. He fared much better this time and almost made it to the second half of the fight, but still the outcome was identical and this time he was probably lifted even higher off the mat. In fact Inoue lifted him so far off his feet that he almost over-rotated the throw by the time Gill crashed down into the mat. "I had two plans to stop him," said Gill. "The first was to block his Uchi-mata. I think I was doing quite well until I was thrown! I had a plan B, but I won't tell you that in case I have to fight him again."
Amid the euphoria surrounding the witnessing of a legend in the making, it was easy to forget that another gold medal was claimed the same day. In the women's -78kgs category, Lin Tang of China surprised a posse of more illustrious opponents to claim the title by a split judges' decision in the final against Celine Lebrun of France. A year ago Tang sat on the sidelines as her compatriot, Yufeng Yin competed in the World championships, winning a silver medal. Yin was expected to be among the favourites here in Sydney but surprisingly lost to Tang in the Chinese selection tournament.
Tang quietly made her way through the draw while Lebrun battled through two judges' decisions to reach the gold medal fight. The French-woman struck first with a low score early in the fight. But she failed to capitalise on her good start and allowed Tang to dominate with her strong, high left-hand grip. Lebrun was twice penalised for passivity by the referee, resulting in a levelling of the scores at the end. The crowd waited nervously as the judges collected their flags, and then the moment came as the two whites and a blue were thrust into the air. Tang, fighting in white, was the winner and Lebrun was dumbfounded, convinced the decision should have swung her way. "I thought I would win the decision so I was feeling pretty happy at the end of the fight," said Lebrun. "Then I saw one white and one blue flag and I started to worry. When I saw the third flag, it felt like a dream falling apart. In retrospect, though, there are worse things that can happen in life. If I look at my career then I think it must develop in stages. Maybe I have to win a silver medal before a gold."
It was a great day for the thirty-somethings as two veterans of the tour rose once more to stand on an Olympic podium for the second time in their careers. Emanuela Pierantozzi of Italy won a silver medal at the Barcelona Games, three years after she completed a European and World championship double gold haul. She hadn't felt the thrill of climbing an international podium since 1997, though, and she was clearly delighted to win bronze, even knocking out World champion Noriko Anno of Japan along the way. Stephane Traineau of France was the oldest competitor on the day at 34 years of age. He too is a former World champion, in 1991, and four years ago he won a bronze in Atlanta. This time he lost in the semi-final to Gill but bounced back to armlock Zeevi with Juji-gatame to emulate his performance in 1996. Traineau was delighted, despite the slight confusion as to whether the armlock took place inside the mat or not. He said: "I am filled with joy. It has been a long, hard day and its very good to win a medal at the end of it."
Traineau was joined on the rostrum by Iouri Stepkine of Russia who ended the medal hopes of Guido by throing him for Ippon with Osoto-gari. "I am extremely happy with this bronze medal," said the European champion. "I am overwhelmed with feelings. This is the first medal I have won of this kind and any medal won at the World championships or Olympics is more prestigious than one won at the Europeans." Meanwhile the last bronze medal of the day was won by Simona Richter of Romania who battled hard all day and only missed out on the final by a judges' decision against Lebrun.
In 2020 Kosei Inoue is still headcoach of the Japanese team and i is well positioned for the Olympic Games in 2021 in Tokyo.