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Kye Sun-hui Getty
26 Jul 1996
Atlanta 1996 , IOC News , Judo

Unknown teen Kye Sun-hui stuns judo world

At Barcelona 1992, 16-year-old judoka Ryoko Tamura had sprung a surprise by reaching the final of the women’s extra-lightweight competition. The Japanese teenager missed out on gold, but now had the confidence and determination to conquer the world. And over the next four years, she did just that.

Tamura, who was less than 1.5m tall, did not lose a single bout between Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, and arrived in Atlanta on the back of a winning run that extended to an incredible 84 matches, which had brought her two world titles. She was now a sporting superstar back home, and was considered by most people to be a certainty for Olympic gold.

However, they were in for a surprise. Tamura reached the final again, as expected. But then came the twist. For the second Games in a row, a 16-year-old made it to the gold medal bout. Just as Tamura had caused a sensation four years earlier, now she found herself up against a little-known North Korean called Kye Sun-hui.

Not only was Kye a stranger to most competitors she also blissfully ignorant of the other athletes. Tamura may now have been an international star, but Kye had never even seen one of her matches. It seemed to work to her advantage. Far from being overawed, she was unaware of her opponent’s reputation.

Kye attacked right from the start. This took Tamura aback, as she was used to opponents who were more cautious. For much of the bout the two fighters cancelled each other out, but then with 22 seconds left, Kye scored with a leg hook. She then scored again in the closing seconds to seal one of the greatest shocks of these Games.

Kye won bronze in Sydney four years later and then competed her set of medals by earning a silver at Athens 2004. At both of those Games it was Tamura who won gold, and she then took a bronze in 2008, making her one of select group of athletes to have won medals at five editions of the Games in a row.

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