By Neil Ohlenkamp
NOTE: This article was written after the 2003 World Championships. As predicted, Japan continued to demonstrate its dominance in the 2004 Olympic Games. This analysis and data has now been updated here.
The 2003 Judo World Championships were held in Osaka, Japan from September 11 to September 14. Now that we have the results, it is time to analyze them to see if there are significant trends developing in modern championship Judo. Judo is one of the most widespread sports in the world. About 100 countries and 700 athletes competed in the 2003 World Championships. There are 197 member nations in the International Olympic Committee and 182 of them are members of the International Judo Federation.
High level Judo competition is very international and champions come from all parts of the world. This year there were 15 countries represented in the 16 matches of the finals to determine the gold and silver medallists. Many countries came close to winning gold medals and no country earned the majority of the gold medals. There were eight different countries that earned gold medals. Japan, the country where Judo originated, earned the most gold medals with six.
Since each country entered only one competitor in each division, and only one person in each division was an undefeated champion, it is appropriate to look at the results for gold medallists and compare them to previous world championships and Olympics to see if there are any trends in which countries are most successful. This may have implications about the relative merits of training and coaching methods that are used in different countries.
Judo World Championships started in 1956, and Judo was first in the Olympic Games in 1964. Since 1956 no country has earned more gold medals than Japan. Japan has now earned 112 gold medals (including 24 Olympic gold medals) compared to their closest rival, France, with 39 (including 10 Olympic gold medals). The following chart shows the top gold medal producing countries in either the Olympics or World Championships since 1956.
Olympic gold medals are often more sought after than World Championship gold medals. Since Judo was admitted into the Olympic Games in 1964 the results for the top three countries earning gold medals in Olympic competition have been similar to the overall results shown above.
OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALS
One would expect Japan to perform better in international competition in the early days because Judo had been practiced in Japan since 1882 when the first school of Judo, the Kodokan, was established. Judo did not become popular in other countries until much later. By the time Judo became an international competitive sport in 1956, The Kodokan had already been having the annual Red and White tournament for 72 years. The situation has now changed because there are experienced coaches and athletes all over the world, many trying different training methods in order to defeat Japanese athletes.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Japan’s dominance was in question. This was in large part because Japan was slow to produce successful female competitors. In the first seven World Championships where women competed (from 1980 through 1991) Japan only earned one gold medal. In women’s competition of the 1993, 1995 and 1997 World Championships (as well as the 1996 Olympics), Japan earned one gold medal per event. Since then there has been a dramatic change. In the next three world championships (1999 through 2003) Japanese women earned ten gold medals. Japan has now clearly proven its overall dominance with strong men’s and women’s Judo teams.
To determine what country is doing the best in international competition recently, we can look at the results during the last five years, a period when we had three different world championships plus the 2000 Olympics. Japan has earned 22 gold medals during this period. Recently Cuba has been the second best country in producing gold medals (all but one were women). France (three male and two female) and China (five women’s gold medals) follow closely behind. The following countries were the only ones to earn more than one gold medal during this period.
GOLD MEDALS 1999-2003
In modern Olympic Games competition (since 1988 when women’s competition was added) Japan is clearly re-establishing its dominance. The following chart shows the increasing number of gold medals earned by Japan in the Olympics, and the decreasing number of gold medals earned by other countries.
Although not as dramatic, a similar change can be seen in World Championship results. Japan earned as many gold medals in the last three championships as in all the previous five. As Japan’s success increased, the ability of many other countries to earn gold medals generally decreased.
The results from the 2003 Osaka World Championships confirm the conclusion that Japan is once again emerging as the dominant powerhouse of Judo champions, and that fewer and fewer countries can compete successfully. For example, in the 1999 World Championships Japan earned eight gold medals and there were only five other countries to earn gold medals.
While this trend is a matter of concern for international Judo, it should be noted that even the most dominant country could only win six out of the 16 available gold medals in the 2003 World Championships. This 38% success rate is far less than the first two World Champioinships when Japan won 100% of the gold medals, or the first Judo event in the Olympic Games when Japan won 75% of the gold medals. In spite of Japan’s recent success, Judo has become a truly international competition sport and Japan will never be able to achieve the level of dominance that it had in the early years. During the period from the first World Championships in 1956 through 1979 Japan won an astounding 72% of the world and Olympic gold medals. This changed dramatically during the 1980’s, and even the recent increase in Japanese gold medals does not change the fact that any country can win a gold medal in Judo.
Twenty one countries have earned Olympic gold medals in Judo, and many more have won world championships. In the last Olympics Turkey won its first Olympic gold medal in Judo, and in the most recent World Championships Argentina won its first gold medal. It is clear that the Olympic medal winners in Judo represent countries in all parts of the world. It is also clear that Japan continues to raise the level of Judo competition. Other countries will now have to step up to meet the challenge.