Ayumi Tanimoto, Japanese judo juggernaut
Japanese judoka Ayumi Tanimoto performed exceptionally well in the Olympic women’s 63kg competition at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, winning all of her judo bouts by ippon on her way to landing the gold medal.
Born in Anjo, in the Aichi prefecture, Ayumi Tanimoto gained her first experience on the judo mat at the age of nine. Over the years that followed, she developed an attacking style, constantly looking for opportunities to score a decisive ippon that would bring an instant conclusion to her contests.
As a junior, she often crossed paths with France’s Lucie Décosse, who emerged victorious from their duel in the final of the 2000 IJF World Junior Championships in Nabeul (TUN), sparking a rivalry that would last a decade.
In 2002, a 21-year-old Tanimoto helped Japan to claim the IJF World Team Championship title in Basel (SUI), andshe subsequently secured a spot in the 63kg women’s individual competition at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Ippon galore in Greece
On 17 August 2004, the fast-improving Japanese judoka put on an eye-catching display in the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall at Athens 2004, showcasing her full array of holds and throws (including tate-shiho-gatame, uchi-mata and harai goshi) as she swiftly defeated every opponent by ippon on her way to the final.
With 2002 European champion Décosse having been eliminated in the quarter-finals, Tanimoto faced off with Claudia Heill (AUT) in the gold medal contest, convincingly pinning her opponent down on the mat in the second minute to pick up her first Olympic title. “This is the happiest day of my life!” she exclaimed.
At the 2005 IJF World Championships in Cairo (EGY), the Japanese athlete suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of Décosse in the 63kg final. Two years later at the Worlds in Rio de Janeiro (BRA), both rivals were outshadowed by Cuba’s Driulis Gonzalez, who defeated Tanimoto in the semi-finals and Décosse in the final.
On 12 August 2008 at the Beijing Science and Technology University Gymnasium, Tanimoto found herself with a chance to gain revenge over Décosse, as the pair locked horns in the 63kg Olympic final.
After 90 seconds, the Frenchwoman attempted an uchi gari throw which momentarily knocked Tanimoto back on her heels. However, the defending champion counter-attacked instantly, performing a textbook uchi-mata to win by ippon, just as she had done throughout the tournament in Beijing.
“It was a classic judo moment,” said Décosse after the bout.
Retiring from the mat
Tanimoto’s announced her retirement in 2010, a decision inspired in part by her remarkable Olympic record of 10 victories by ippon. “It has been exactly 20 years since I began learning judo,”she said. “As a judo competitor, I have tried my best to pass on the educational principles of judo as I have understood them. Having won all my matches by ippon at two consecutive Olympic Games, I would like to retire from competition with a sense of accomplishment, according to my own judo principles.
“More importantly, I would not have been able to achieve any of this without the assistance and support of so many people, and I am determined to make full use of the valuable experience I have gained in judo, to further develop myself and give something back to judo.”
With that goal in mind, she moved to France in 2013 to pursue a coaching career.