Best Judoka since Olympic Debut at Tokyo 1964
During the 2019 World Championships, significantly held in Tokyo, there was a Gala Dinner to celebrate 55 Years since judo debuted as an Olympic sport at Tokyo 1964. The best judoka from each Olympics were awarded in a glittering ceremony.
Best Judoka key:
Olympic Champion World Champion
Kayla Harrison - United States
Kayla Harrison was born on July 2, 1990 in Ohio in the United States and took up judo at the age of six. She was introduced to the sport by her mother, who was involved in judo at the time.
Harrison obtained most of her titles under the coaching of Jimmy Pedro and his father.
She competed in the under-78 kilograms class and won gold at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, the first American to reach this level in judo.
During her outstanding career she also triumphed at the World Championships in Tokyo in 2010, becoming the first American to achieve this since 1999 when her coach Pedro won the world title in Birmingham.
In 2008, Harrison won the Junior World Championships. The following year, she placed second, becoming the first American to compete in two junior world finals.
She also won gold at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games.
All these achievements have propelled Harrison into a position where she is regarded as one of the world's best ever athletes.
2012 London and 2016 Rio
Teddy Riner - France
Teddy Riner was born on April 7, 1989 in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, an overseas region of France in the Caribbean.
Competing for France in the over-100 kilograms heavyweight division, he is the only judoka to have won 10 World Championship gold medals. He also boasts Olympic golds from London 2012 and Rio 2016, and a bronze from Beijing 2008.
At the European Championships, the French giant has won five gold medals.
When competing at the 2007 World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Riner became the youngest ever senior world champion in the over-100kg event, defeating the 2000 Olympic gold medallist, Kosei Inoue of Japan, in the semi-final.
In February 2020, Riner was defeated by Japan's Kokoro Kageura at the Paris Grand Slam, which ended a sensational unbeaten run which stretched back to 2010.
He is aiming for a third Olympic title at Tokyo 2020 and has announced that his dream would be to end his career as Olympic champion at his home Paris 2024 Games.
Riner has been awarded the highest civic distinction in France – the Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur – and he is one of the most famous judoka at national and international level.
Besides his athletic interests, Riner is engaged in many development and humanitarian activities.
Lucie Décosse - France
Lucie Décosse was born on August 6, 1981, in Chaumont, France.
Her international career spanned the years 2000 to 2013.
She evolved in the under-63 kilograms class until 2008, when she began competing in the under-70kg.
Décosse became the French and world number one in both classes and the left-hander is an exceptional medallist.
She won Olympic gold at London 2012 and is a three-time world champion from Cairo in 2005, Tokyo in 2010 and Paris in 2011.
Other highlights were winning four European titles and an Olympic silver at Beijing 2008.
Décosse ended her career at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
Considered one of the best and more spectacular technicians of the sport in the world, in 2016 she commentated on French television for judo events at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She was also an athlete role model during the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
Having been national coach of the French cadet team, Décosse is now an elite coach of the women's team.
Ole Bischof - Germany
Ole Bischof was born on August 27, 1979, in Reutlingen, Germany.
Coached by the 1984 Olympic champion Frank Wieneke, and competing in the under-81 kilograms, Bischof became Olympic champion in 2008 in Beijing.
In the process, he defeated the reigning world champion, Brazil's Tiago Camilo, the current Olympic silver medallist, Roman Gontyuk of Ukraine, and South Korea's Kim Jae-bum in the final.
In February 2012, Bischof won the Paris Grand Slam and the Düsseldorf Grand Prix and qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
In a role reversal, he took silver in London, losing to Kim in the final.
With this silver medal, Bischof brought his time in competition to an end.
During his career, he gained a degree in economics from the University of Cologne.
Since October 2012, he has been a consultant at PwC.
In December 2014, he was elected vice-president of competitive sports for the German Olympic Sports Confederation.
Alina Alexandra Dumitru - Romania
Alina Alexandra Dumitru was born on August 30, 1982, in Bucharest, Romania.
She first hit the headlines by winning a world title in the junior category in 2000 in Nabeul, Tunisia, before claiming a silver European medal at the same level the following year.
In 2002, she reached the international top three for the first time, claiming bronze on the European podium in Maribor.
It was at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing that Dumitru reached the greatest heights, defeating Japan's legendary Ryoko Tamura in the semi-final of the under-48 kilograms competition and thus ending her 12-years of dominance in major events.
When she claimed victory against Yanet Bermoy of Cuba in the final, Dumitru became the first Romanian judoka to win Olympic gold.
She then competed at the London Olympics in 2012, losing in the final to Sarah Menezes of Brazil.
Dumitru's career also included eight European Championship gold medals.
She was decorated with the "Meritul Sportiv" medal by the President of Romania, and became an honorary citizen of her hometown, Ploiesti, in 2008.
Ilias Iliadis - Greece
Ilias Iliadis was born on November 10, 1986, in Akhmeta, Georgia.
Competing in Greek colours and aged just 17, he won gold in the under-81 kilograms class at his home Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
Eight years later, he was on the podium again at London 2012, winning bronze at under-90kg.
During an impressive career, Iliadis reached the top of the World Championships podium three times: Tokyo 2010, Paris 2011 and Chelyabinsk 2014.
As Greece's flagbearer, he had the honour of being the first athlete to march into the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of Beijing 2008.
He also won two gold medals at the European Championships.
Today, Iliadis is an International Judo Federation athlete role model, promoting the sport as well as participating in education activities.
2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens
Ryoko Tamura - Japan
Ryoko Tani, nee Tamura, was born on September 6, 1975, in Fukuoka, Japan, and attended her first judo competition in the early 1980s.
She went on to become the undisputed world number one in the lightest of all the classes, the under-48 kilograms.
In her early years, she was inspired by Britain's pioneering four-time world champion Karen Briggs.
At the inaugural international women's judo competition to be held in Japan – the 1990 Fukuoka Cup – the teenage Tamura beat her idol.
Women's judo made its official Olympic debut at Barcelona 1992 and Tamura, still only 16, took silver in the final, defeated by France's Cecile Nowak.
She achieved star status in Japan with her first world title the next year in Hamilton, Canada.
Tamura won Olympic silver again at Atlanta 1996 before going on to have an astonishing 12-year unbeaten run at international level.
She won Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 and then, competing as Ryoko Tamura-Tani at Athens 2004, reached her fourth consecutive Olympic final. She would defeat France's Frederique Jossinet to become the first female judoka to retain her crown.
In 2008, she won Olympic bronze in Beijing, while she won the world title seven times and Asian Games gold in 1994.
After her judo career, she became a renowned politician in Japan.
Kosei Inoue - Japan
Kosei Inoue was born on May 15, 1978, in Miyakonojo, Japan.
He won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and celebrated three World Championship triumphs during a glittering career at under-100 kilograms.
Although he stepped away from competition some years ago, Inoue still has a lot of admirers and is considered one of the most spectacular judoka of all time.
After retiring from the sport, Inoue embarked on a trip to Britain on behalf of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
He spent six months in Edinburgh, and a year at the Budokwai in London, following a long-standing tradition of Japanese greats coaching at Europe's oldest active martial arts club.
Now, Inoue is head coach of the Japanese team and remains an extremely popular figure in the judo world.
He married Japanese actress and television personality Aki Higashihara on January 14, 2008.
David Douillet - France
David Douillet was born on February 17, 1969, in Normandy, France.
This imposing judoka dominated the heavyweight class for close to a decade, winning honours on every stage.
Prior to the current dominance of his compatriot Teddy Riner, he had conquered the world and left a legacy that few could emulate.
As an athlete possessed of both finesse and power, Douillet won Olympic bronze at Barcelona 1992 and then Olympic golds at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
He also won four world titles and one European Championship gold.
Throughout his illustrious career, he tirelessly promoted numerous charitable organisations.
Since retiring from judo, Douillet has worked as a TV personality in France, and established himself in politics. He served as Sports Minister from 2011 to 2012.
Douillet is now a businessman who remains very much in love with the sport that gave him so much.
Considered one of the best known personalities in France, his name has officially entered the dictionary.
He is an International Judo Federation Hall of Fame member.
Ulla Werbrouck - Belgium
Ulla Werbrouck was born on January 24, 1972, in Izegem, Belgium, and was one of the most successful Belgian judoka in the 1990s.
The highlight of her career came at Atlanta 1996 when she defeated Japan’s Yoko Tanabe by ippon in the Olympic under-72 kilograms final, becoming the first female Belgian Olympic champion since the war.
She also won seven European titles and four World Championship medals between 1994 and 2001.
She was flagbearer for the Belgian delegation at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
In 2002, Werbrouck announced her retirement at the end of the Paris Tournament and entered the political world.
From 2007 to 2009, she served as a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, and in 2009 was elected a member of the Flemish Parliament.
One of the greatest Belgian judoka in history, Werbrouck is part of a tradition that has seen many of her compatriots shine at international level, including Robert Van de Walle, Ingrid Berghmans and Gella Vandecaveye.
Waldemar Legień - Poland
Waldemar Legień was born on August 28, 1963, in Bytom, Poland.
A three-time world bronze medallist, he won two Olympic golds in different weight classes - the under-78 kilograms at Seoul 1988 and the under-86kg at Barcelona 1992.
He was the third competitor to win two Olympic titles but the first to win them back-to-back.
For this achievement, he received the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (fourth class) in 1988.
After his sporting career had ended, Legień became an illustrious coach, transmitting his passion and knowledge about judo to the younger generation.
He is married with two children.
Miriam Blasco - Spain
Miriam Guadalupe Blasco Soto was born on December 12, 1963, in Valladolid, Spain.
She was the first Spanish athlete to win a medal – gold – at the country's home Summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, when she triumphed in the 57 kilograms division.
In 1991, she became European champion in Prague and world champion in Barcelona.
When her sports career came to an end, Blasco took up the role of commentator for Spanish television in Sydney before entering politics in 2000.
Blasco was elected to the Spanish senate, representing Alicante, in the general elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008, and was an MP from 2011 to 2015.
She was a member of the Women's Committee of the Spanish Olympic Committee and President of the "Special Commission on the Status of Athletes at the End of their Sports Careers" for several years.
She maintains her commitment to the advancement of women in sport.
Hitoshi Saito - Japan
Hitoshi Saito was born on January 2, 1961 in Aomori, Japan.
He started judo at a young age, and in 1974 was scouted to transfer to Kokushikan Junior High School in Tokyo.
A contemporary on the tatami with his best friend, Yasuhiro Yamashita, they faced each other in seven All Japan Championships finals.
He became world champion in Moscow in 1983, and the first Japanese judoka to become a double Olympic gold medallist in the heavyweight class at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988.
Following his competitive career, Saito was coach for the Japanese judo team during the 2004 Summer Olympics and was deeply involved in the running of the Japanese armada.
A Kodokan ninth dan, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, by the Japanese Emperor.
Saito was posthumously inducted into the International Judo Federation Hall of Fame in 2015, after passing away in the same year.
His son Tatsuru is treading in his father's footsteps and represents the next generation of Japanese heavyweights.
1984 Los Angeles
Yasuhiro Yamashita - Japan
Yasuhiro Yamashita was born on June 1, 1957 near Kumamoto, Japan.
Forever associated with greatness, this living legend possessed a skillset and will to win which was unparalleled: he won a record 203 consecutive matches between 1977 and 1985.
During his time as a Tokai University talisman, Yamashita won four World Championships and openweight gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Off the tatami, he is an unassuming figure who has retained his enthusiasm for, and dedication to, judo excellence.
As manager of the Japanese team, Yamashita was seen cleaning up the warm-up area at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Yamashita once said: "If they could see on my face what I feel in my heart, no-one would ever fight me."
He has been an International Judo Federation Executive Committee member for many years, and is a member of the Hall of Fame. He is also the President of the All Japan Judo Federation.
In June 2019, Yamashita became President of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
Robert Van De Walle - Belgium
Robert Van De Walle was born on May 20, 1954, in Ostend, Belgium.
He became the first-ever judoka to compete at five Olympics, from 1976 to 1992.
Competing in the half-heavyweight class, he won gold in Moscow in 1980. His victory earned him the Belgian Sportsperson of the Year accolade, and he then added bronze in Seoul in 1988, aged 34.
Van de Walle won a record seven World Championship medals and alongside Ingrid Berghmans served as the face of Belgian judo in the late 1970s and 1980s
With more than a decade at the top of the sport, competing in the under-95 kilograms and openweight classes, he certainly left his mark as an all-time great.
After retiring from competition, he and his wife ran a coaching company.
He headed the Belgian delegation at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Ezio Gamba - Italy
Ezio Gamba was born on December 2, 1958 in Brescia, Italy.
During his impressive career, he participated in four Olympic Games and won one gold at Moscow 1980. He also won silver at Los Angeles 1984.
The under-71 kilograms star claimed European medals, including gold in 1982, and came away with two senior World Championship medals.
Three decades after his greatest triumph in Moscow, Gamba is now head coach of the Russian team.
This humble Italian masterminded Russia's success at London 2012, when his team topped the medal table with three Olympic golds.
He is currently guiding them towards more major milestones.
In 2013, Gamba was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship for his outstanding contribution to the development of sports in the Russian Federation.
Today, he is general secretary of the European Judo Union and has been inducted by the International Judo Federation into its Hall of Fame.
Haruki Uemura - Japan
Haruki Uemura was born on February 14, 1951 in Kumamoto, Japan.
The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal saw Uemura defeat Britain's Keith Remfry to win gold in the openweight class final.
A finalist at the World Championships and the winner of the All-Japan Championships in 1973, he became world champion in 1975 in Vienna.
Following his distinguished career, he served as President of the All-Japan Judo Federation and is currently an International Judo Federation Executive Committee member.
In 2009, Uemura was awarded the rank of ninth dan and was elected as President of the Kodokan in Tokyo, where he is regularly to be found on the tatami.
In every sense of the word, he is a true judoka and is respected as teacher, spokesman and motivator.
Wim Ruska - Netherlands
Willem "Wim" Ruska was born on August 29, 1940 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Although he only began his illustrious judo career at the age of 21 – no doubt inspired by Anton Geesink – he remains as the only competitor to win two judo gold medals at the same Olympics at Munich 1972, in the heavyweight and openweight classes.
He then retired from competitive judo.
Nicknamed the "Tarzan of the tatami" and recognised for his technique, strength and speed, he took two world titles at Salt Lake City in 1967 and Ludwigshafen in 1971.
In 2013, the International Judo Federation inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
Married with two children and five grandchildren, he passed away in February 2015.
Anton Geesink - Netherlands
Antonius Johannes Geesink was born on April 6, 1934 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
He was the first judoka to defeat Japanese athletes at the Olympic Games during the inaugural appearance of the sport at Tokyo 1964, where he won the openweight title.
This Dutch giant started judo aged 14, and also became the first non-Japanese judoka to win gold at the World Championships in Paris in 1961, in the openweight class. He then won world gold again in Rio de Janeiro in 1965.
A true judo legend, Geesink took the sport into the international arena.
He was chosen as Dutch Sportsman of the Year in 1957, 1961, 1964 and 1965 and awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese Government in 1997.
In 1987, he became a member of the Dutch National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.
Married to Jans Geesink for more than 50 years, with two sons and a daughter, Geesink passed away in August 2010.
He left an unforgettable legacy to the entire judo community.