The Japanese team did not, though, reach its target of between 15 and 18 golds – which would have led the team to fifth in the medal table – and its eleventh place finish will be a disappointment to some.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for Japan was that Judo only yielded one gold (they won four in Beijing) but a final flourish in the wrestling arena brought Japan’s total medal count in London to seven gold, 14 silver and 17 bronze, spread over 13 sports, and there was much to be celebrated.
Japan won a record number of medals overall, with 38, one more than their previous best, in Athens in 2004.
So, who are Japan’s London 2012 gold medallists?
Ryota Murata – Boxing Men’s Middle (75kg) – The 26-year-old from Nara (pictured above) beat Esquiva Florentino, the Brazilian, in a tight 14-13 decision on Friday 10th, just two days before the end of the Games. After failing to make the grade for the Beijing Games, Murata took a job at Toyo University, but missed the ring so much he returned in 2009. Tragedy struck in 2010, when Murata’s teacher and mentor, Maekawa Takemoto, committed suicide, but the boxer managed to channel his emotions and won silver in the World Championships a year later – earning his ticket to London in the process.
Kohei Uchimura – Gymnastics, Men’s Individual All-Around – After earning a silver in the team event – to the disappointment of the British team, who were downgraded to bronze after an appeal to the judges moved Japan’s score past them – Uchimura produced a majestic individual display. To truly be called the greatest gymnast of all time, after three World Championship wins, Uchimura would have to win Olympic gold in London. He did so in some style.
Kaori Matsumoto – Judo (-57kg) – At just 24, the Judoka from Kanazawa (pictured at the top) was Japan’s first gold medallist in London. She has been nicknamed ‘The Beast’, though probably not for the tears that flowed after her victory. Winning the team’s solitary gold was the highlight of a disappointing campaign on the judo mats, and Matsumoto dedicated the win to teammates, Tomoko Fukumi and Misato Nakamura… Some consolation.
Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu – (66kg Freestyle) The Japan Self Defence Forces have a gold medallist amongst their ranks, and their man Yonemitsu ended Japan’s 24-year wait for a men’s wrestling gold with a victory over India’s Sushil Kumar.
Yonemitsu, who won a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2010 and a silver at the 2011 World Championships is only 26, which makes him a rising star in the wrestling world, so he will hope to defend his title in Rio.
Hitomi Obara – (48kg Freestyle) Obara has won six world titles at 51 kilograms, which is a non-Olympic weight, and took the last two world titles at this weight, so the pressure was on, but she delivered, rallying after a shaky start to beat Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbaijan 0-4, 1-0, 2-0. Another wrestler who lists Armed Forces as her occupation, Obara is 31.
Saori Yoshida (55kg Freestyle) – Champion again, Yoshida has now won gold at three consecutive Games.
Yoshida is rarely defeated, and in fact a defeat to Russian Valeria Zholobova in May this year was the first time in 58 bouts that she had lost.
Dominating this level meant that Canadian Tonya Lynn Verbeek, who also lost to Yoshida in the 2004 final in Athens, had no chance.
Kaori Icho (63kg Freestyle) – Now here’s a familiar story. Japanese Olympic wrestler takes third successive gold. Not Yoshida, but Icho.
An equally dominant woman, Icho, who is 28, just a year younger than Yoshida, now has a winning streak of 72 matches.
A home London games brought major success to Team GB and who knows, Japan may have the opportunity to do the same in 2020. Tokyo is shortlisted, with Madrid and Istanbul, to host the Games, and will find out in September 2013 if their courtship of Olympic committee members has been fruitful. We certainly hope so, and so does Kohei Uchimura, who today said, “The Olympics only take place once every four years. In London I experienced the wonderful feeling of competing at this level. Let’s host the 2020 Games in Tokyo!”