JAPAN first participated in the summer Olympics in 1912 and has only missed two Games since then. In 1948 they were not invited to participate following their involvement in World War 2 and then in 1980 when they became part of the boycott led by the USA over the Moscow Olympic Games. Japan joined 64 other countries in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. 80 countries did attend however.
As I have said before in columns in Boxing News, to my mind, boycotts rarely achieve anything of significance in sporting events. If anything is achieved in political terms it belongs to the countries themselves. All boycotts do is to deprive competitors of competing on the greatest sporting stage on earth, in many cases the only opportunity some men and women would ever get at becoming an Olympian. So shame on political and sometimes economic dogma in undertaking a boycott; those in charge of such nations seem to have little respect or compassion for those they have denied the chance to compete.
Four years is a long time for any boxer or any competitor, to have to wait until his/ her successor Games come along and many would undoubtedly have won medals had not their mother countries denied them that chance. Boxers and other competitors will having been training and preparing all their adult lives for an Olympic opportunity; just to have it snatched away from them by their political masters. How fair is that? What a shame, let’s have no more boycotts for whatever reason. It may be a pipe dream, but we can always dream, that costs nothing. Sport and politics should remain poles apart, both would be better for this.
If I may pause for a moment. Did Afghanistan become a better place as a result of the boycott all those years ago? Not for me to say, I will leave that to political boffins and commentators to discuss and argue today and into the future. It certainly needs answering by others.
Boxing was first introduced into the summer Games in 1904, however, in 1912 boxing was not held in the Stockholm Games as it was banned in Sweden at that time. Japan first entered the Olympic boxing ring in 1932 and has been ever present since then, 1980 apart.
It was not until the Rome Olympics of 1960 that their first Olympic medal was gained. That honour fell to flyweight, Kiyoshi Tanabe. He started off his Olympic journey with a bye, then outpointed Ghana’s Isaac Aryee and then Nigeria’s Karimu Young before coming up against Romania’s Mircea Dobrescu in the quarter-finals. The vastly more experienced Dobrescu was probably looked upon as the Olympic favourite having gained a silver medal four years earlier in Melbourne in 1956. There he was outpointed by GB’s surprise package the late Terry Spinks. Tanabe defeated Dobrescu 4-1 to set up a semi-final encounter with Sergei Sivko (the eventual silver medallist) from the Soviet Union. Sivko triumphed 4-1, but Tanabe returned home with a bronze medal, Japan’s first ever in the Olympic boxing ring. So, Japan had got on the Olympic boxing medal table at last and four years later, they went on to win a gold medal no less.
That first golden honour went to bantamweight, Takao Sakurai in Tokyo in 1964 (more on that next week) First GB’s Brian Packer was outscored 4-1 and the Japanese stylist followed this victory up with three conclusive 5-0 points verdicts when Ghana’s Cassis Aryee; Romania’s Nicolae Puiu and then Washington Rodriguez (Uruguay) were summarily dismissed to set up a final clash with South Korean Chung Shin-Cho. The stylish Sakurai turned puncher for this gold medal match and stopped his opponent in the second round, flooring him three times in the process.
In Mexico City four years later in 1968, another bronze was achieved at bantamweight by Eiji Morioka. He boxed three times outscoring first Dominardo Calumarde from the Philippines 4-1, then Frenchman Aldo Consentino again by a 4-1 score line and then Ireland’s highly touted Mick Dowling by the familiar 4-1 points success. His semi- final with the then Soviet Union’s tough Valerian Sokolov proved a step too far for Morioka and he lost out 5-0 in the Soviet man’s favour. No disgrace there as Sokolov went on to gain the gold medal.
We fast forward quite a time now. Japan have successfully negotiated all of the global qualification tournaments introduced after the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, but no medals were forthcoming until the London 2012 Games when a gold and a bronze medal returned home to the far East.
Satoshi Shimizu, at bantamweight, had a curious time for his bronze achievement. In his first contest he just edged out Ghana’s Isaac Dogboe in a very tight 10-9 call to set up an encounter with Azerbaijan’s, Magomed Abdullamidov and what a splendid muddle that turned out to be!
Following some truly appalling refereeing and judging, the Azerbaijan man got the points “nod”. However as he was tiring badly in the last round, he was floored six times, no less and should have been stopped, but the referee from Turkmenistan Ishanguly Meretnyyazov did not do so. Following an appeal from Shimizu and the Japanese team, the verdict was overturned successfully and the contest awarded to Shimizu as “rsc”. The referee had waved “off” all the knockdowns and only administered a single warning to Abdullamidov. The Turkmenistan official was removed from the Olympic pool of referees and sent home immediately after the reversal of the decision. What a carry on and a situation which did little to enhance the overall reputation of boxing at the Games; nor of the appropriateness of some of its officials. Little wonder that we have a continuous battle to maintain boxing as an Olympic sport. Matters like this should not occur in any boxing event, let alone in the Olympic Games.
Algeria’s Mohamed Ouadahi was next up for Shimizu and the Japanese came out on top 17-15 in a tough and ultimately close meeting. Team GB’s outstanding Luke Campbell awaited Shimizu in the semi-final and triumphed by a 20-11 verdict to take his place in the final which ultimately he won of course, outscoring Ireland’s John Joe Nevin in the final. A good bronze medal for Japan, one which they had waited 44 years to accomplish.
Middleweight Ryota Murata became Japan’s second boxing gold medallist (in fact he was the 100th overall gold medallist for his country) achieving that distinction in London 2012, boxing and winning four times for his special Olympic triumph.
Algeria’s Abdelmark Rahou was outpointed 21-12, next Turkey’s Adem Kilicci was dismissed by 17-13, while a tight run thing against Abbos Atoev from Uzbekistan 13-12 saw him advance into the final against Brazilian Esquiva Falcao, perhaps all in all a final which may well have gone against the normal form book, Falcao having outscored Team GB’s Anthony Ogogo 16-9 in his own semi-final.
The final was a tight nip and tuck affair with the Japanese getting the “nod” at the end of three very close rounds by the slenderest of margins 14-13 to send him back to Tokyo with gold in his pocket. Esquiva thus became the first Brazilian to collect a boxing medal in the Olympics. In 2011 at the Wold Amateur Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, the top class Murata had gained silver and Esquiva a bronze in the middleweight division; so it was intriguing that they were to meet some months later in the Olympic final at London 2012.
No success followed for Japan in Rio in 2016 and now Tokyo 2020 beckons, so just go for it as they say. Japanese female boxers did not feature in either the 2012 or 2016 Games. So only time will tell what the host nation achieves in terms of medals next year in Tokyo. Follow their efforts in these columns.