Written by Jo Crowley on 07. Jun 2024
Photographs by Gabriela Sabau, Emanuele Di Feliciantonio
Interviewing an Olympic champion is something special and always delivers thought-provoking words and ideas; it’s a unique kind of education. Following the stories of the first 39 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Shori Hamada, Olympic champion in Tokyo in 2021 in the -78 kg category.

Shori Hamada (JPN, Olympic champion.

We introduced the statistics, the almost impossible feat and the question in our first article in the series, which can be found here:

https://www.ijf.org/news/show/151-olympic-champions-tokyo-to-tokyo

A reminder of the question:

It could be said that to be in the company of an Olympic judo champion is to be presented with someone whom has reached an absolute pinnacle, a ceiling which cannot be surpassed; there is nowhere further to ascend in the world of sport. We often find Olympic champions speaking with freedom and certainty, unafraid to share an opinion, speaking of their lives and journeys with confidence. For many we feel there is peace, and that can be magnetic and inspiring.

So the question is, did they become Olympic champion because of that character or did they become that person having won the Olympic gold medal?

“I try to tackle everything with the mindset that I can do it, I can do it! The results have been positive!”

Hamada's second round win against Pacut (POL).

“In 2014, at the Tokyo Grand Slam, it was the first time for me to compete internationally and already from that time this is how I was thinking. Before that I was aiming at being national champion. That was my only goal but then I achieved it. At each step I thought again that I can do it. The last step was the Olympic Games and again I had to think that I can do it.

Step by step I was able to get results and on the day itself, in Tokyo, I thought I just wanted to enjoy the Games. On the day I was in very good condition and so I knew already that I could win but I also knew that it was not easy to be at and compete well at the Olympics. It’s only one day just as each day is only one day but this was an important day. It’s just one chance and one precious day and so I must enjoy it.”

Winning the -78 kg Olympic final Against Malonga (FRA)

Shori Hamada was determined to enjoy it because it was such a special will day, rather than feeling the pressure or the expectation.

“I don’t think it was just about my technical ability. I think I gained confidence by building up the experiences. Sometimes this mindset makes me very confident.”

“Before 2014 it was like a dream but gradually I could see the Olympics ahead of me and once the ticket was there, so it became necessary to fully enjoy it, enjoy having this experience. I was very happy to be qualified but also kept my methodical approach of building the evidence that I could do it.

I didn’t feel any pressure at the Olympic Games, I was relaxed. My life has been totally judo and this is my way of moving through it.”

Winning feels good.

Why judo?

“When I was a child I wanted a hobby. Judo just happened! There was a dojo near to my house and it was fun so I stayed and enjoyed it.

Winning that Olympic gold medal didn’t change me at all. I was thinking that I wanted to get a medal of any colour but was super happy to have gold. Perhaps that isn’t the usual way to approach it, not for the Japanese team but it worked for me and now that the time has passed, now that it’s finished, I can say this out loud!”

The -78 kg Olympic podium in Tokyo, 2021.