Persistence does not always bring a reward in sport but, when it does, it can make a triumph feel all the greater.
Now she arrived in Australia for her third Games, desperate to reach the top of the podium. By now established as a hugely popular athlete, she had the whole of Japan behind her, but the question was whether she shrug off previous disappointments, rise to the occasion, and beat the best gymnasts in the world.
She was the huge favourite. That defeat in the Atlanta final remained her only loss in eight years and she readily admitted that gold was her only target in Sydney.
Her greatest rival appeared to be the Cuban Amarilys Savón, who she had competed against at the last two Olympics and who she had also beaten twice in world championship finals. But Savón suffered an early upset, beaten by the Russian Lyubov Bruletova, a silver medallist at the recent European Championships.
Tamura had to come through a tough semi-final, earning a decision over Korea's DPR’s Cha Hyon-hyang, and found herself up against Bruletova in the final. After so many years of Olympic preparation, she now had her chance to grab the ultimate prize.
In fact, it came quicker than she might have expected. With just 36 seconds on the clock, Tamura used an uchi-mata to earn a decisive ippon and bring the contest to an early end. Immediately, the Japanese fans started celebrating while Tamura herself was kept up to the small hours of the morning doing an endless round of interviews.
She successfully defended her title in Athens in 2004 and then won the bronze medal in 2008 at her fifth Games. She had initially intended to compete in London 2012 at the age of 36 but subsequenty shelved those plans to focus on a career in politics.