LONDON - Japanese judoka Misato Nakamura is hoping to improve on her bronze medal from the Beijing Games when the competition for her lightweight women's division gets under way on Sunday.
She may have extra incentive: Her teammates failed to win gold on Saturday, a disappointing start for the country that invented judo.
The double world champion will face some stiff competition from other top judo players, including Yanet Bermoy of Cuba and Bundmaa Munkhbaatar, a Mongolian athlete currently ranked world no. 2.
A medal for Nakamura would help right the course for Japan, which stumbled Saturday. Top-ranked Tomoko Fukumi left empty-handed after losing to Hungarian Eva Csernoviczki in the bronze medal match. Among the men, Hiroaki Hiroaka only managed a silver despite looking to be in winning form all day.
Fukumi said she tried her best but should not have steered away from her original game plan. "I could see the techniques of my opponent, but I did not keep my judo style where I always try to get ippon," she said, commenting on her tendency to go for judo's match-ending win.
On the men's side, none of the previous medallists from the Beijing Games are returning, leaving the Sunday competition wide open.
Top-ranked Musa Mogushkov will have a chance to add to Russia's gold medal collection after teammate Arsen Galstyan on Saturday won the country's first judo gold since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Mogushkov might face some difficult matches against Masashi Ebinuma, the current world champion, Brazilian Leandro Cunha, a double silver world medallist or the consistently strong Korean fighter, Chor Jun-Ho.
On Saturday, Galstyan surprised spectators and opponents when he took the gold after defeating the category's two favourites: top-ranked Uzbeki fighter Rishod Sobirov in the semifinal, and top-ranked Hiroaka in the final.
It took less than a minute for Galstyan, 23, to score a match-ending ippon over Hiroaka. "Russia has waited (for this) for a long time," Galstyan said. "I feel very happy I was able to win it."
The women also made history on Saturday; Brazil's Sarah Menezes beat defending Olympic champion Alina Dumitru of Romania to become her country's first female judo gold medallist . She said she was "exceedingly happy" and that she had prayed to win.