Tenri University graduate Tadahiro Nomura, a 29-year-old Yoboku belonging to Umami Branch Church, became the first judoka to win three Olympic gold medals when he defeated Georgia’s Nestor Khergiani in the final in the men’s 60-kilogram category on August 14.
He was holding his opponent down on the mat when the five minutes came to an end. Then he rolled over on to his back and raised his arms above his head to celebrate modestly.
That was a moment when he was freed from all pressure. He had a long break after the Sydney Games, but he wanted to have another go. He was well aware of people’s high expectations.
Mr. Nomura attended Tenri High School and Tenri University before going to graduate school at Nara University of Education. He won his first gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 when he was a fourth-year student at Tenri University. He defended the title in Sydney in 2000. After that, he took 26 months off before returning to competitive judo in November 2002.
He began his first bout in Athens rather cautiously, but after building up a comfortable lead, he gained an ippon by a textbook seoinage (shoulder throw), his trademark throw, 2 minutes, 46 seconds into the contest. Thereafter, he gave full play to his explosive combination of speed and technique, finishing his third bout in 53 seconds and the next in just 14 seconds.
His opponent in the semifinals was Mongolian judoka Khashbaatar Tsagaanbaatar, who had advanced by beating last year’s world championships winner. The Olympic champion sent him crashing backward by a spectacular ouchigari (major inner reaping) technique after 23 seconds.
He had previously had a number of bouts with Mr. Khergiani, and they knew each other’s techniques only too well. Although the Japanese star could not execute an ippon throw during the five minutes, he continually attempted attacking techniques and ended the contest well ahead. He was entirely deserving of the honor when he won the historic third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
On August 25, some 10,000 people gathered at Tenri Train Station to give him a hero’s welcome. “You said you’d bring a gold medal home, and you did,” said Tenri Mayor Keisaku Minami in his speech. “By winning your third medal, you achieved a feat not likely to be repeated by anyone. You did so by demonstrating the essence of ‘Tenri Judo.’ Congratulations!” The champion then received a lei and a bouquet of flowers from members of Tenri University’s judo team and expressed his appreciation for the enthusiastic support provided by so many people.
Tenri Junior High School’s brass band then led a parade in honor of the Olympic hero along the city’s main shopping street, lined by applauding crowds. Seated in an open car, he waved to them. The parade concluded in front of the Main Sanctuary’s South Worship Hall, where he offered his prayers of gratitude. When he came out, a ceremony was held in which he spoke to the crowds, who had filled the large area in front of the Worship Hall. “I learned my judo in Tenri,” he said. “I’m really happy I was able to come back with this result.” He added he was satisfied that he was able to give full play to “Tenri Judo.” He concluded by thanking the crowds for the enthusiastic welcome home.
The gold medalist then visited the Shinbashira and the former Shinbashira, who serves as president of Tenri Judo Association. The Shinbashira and the former Shinbashira congratulated Mr. Nomura on winning three straight titles at the Summer Games and expressed their appreciation for his tremendous efforts that had made it possible.
Other Olympians with Links to Tenrikyo
Japan’s women’s hockey team, which was making its first-ever appearance in the Olympic Games, included seven former and current students from Tenri University. Though the team ended in eighth place, almost all its goals were scored by Tenri athletes.
Synchronized swimmers, led by head coach Masayo Imura, won the duet and team silver for Japan. Coach Imura, a graduate of Tenri University, has guided Japan to medal-winning performances in every Summer Games since synchronized swimming became an Olympic sport in 1984.
Japanese swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, who won both the men’s 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, belongs to Tokyo Swimming Center, which is run by Tokyo Tenrikyo-kan. The second Shinbashira was instrumental in establishing the swimming center in 1968.
Gymnast Hisashi Mizutori, a member of Japan’s gold-winning team, is a son of a Yoboku. He scored 9.625 on his rings routine.