Japanese Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi (marathon), Tadahiro Nomura (judo) and Saori Yoshida (wrestling) will be among the torchbearers for the Tokyo 2020 torch relay’s first eight days in Greece in March.
Noguchi will be the first Japanese torchbearer and second overall, receiving the Olympic Flame from a Greek during the traditional lighting ceremony in Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, on March 12.
The Olympic Flame will spend eight days in Greece before being flown to Japan to start a 121-day trek leading to the July 24 Opening Ceremony. The Japanese part of the relay begins in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima.
Noguchi won the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon that began in Marathon and ended at the Panathenaic Stadium used for the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Nomura is the only judoka with three Olympic gold medals, winning the lightest male division (60kg or 132 pounds) in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
The wrestler Yoshida is also a three-time Olympic champion, plus a 13-time world champion between 53kg and 55kg. She retired after being dethroned by American Helen Maroulis in a bid for a fourth gold in Rio.
Others to be the first host-nation athletes to carry the Olympic Flame in Olympia included South Korean soccer player Park Ji-sung, Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio and Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin.
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Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida announced her retirement via Twitter on Tuesday. The three-time Olympic gold medalist and 13-time world champion retires as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Yoshida made her senior debut in 2002 and went on to win her first 119 international matches (a win streak that lasted until January 2008). She made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first Games at which women’s wrestling was contested, and claimed one of the inaugural women’s gold medals in the sport. After losing her first international match in January 2008, Yoshida rebounded by successfully defending her Olympic title at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Yoshida was selected as Japan’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and she went on to win a third-straight Olympic gold medal at those Games. A few weeks later at the 2012 World Championships, she broke the record for most consecutive world or Olympic titles by claiming her 13th-straight (the previous record of 12 had been held by Russian legend Aleksandr Karelin). With three more world titles in 2013, 2014, and 2015, she entered the 2016 Rio Olympics having won 16-straight world or Olympic titles.
But in Rio, Yoshida was denied a fourth Olympic title by American Helen Maroulis, who defeated the Japanese great to become the first-ever American to win an Olympic gold medal in women’s wrestling. It marked Yoshida’s third loss in international competition — and first at a major event.
Yoshida started wrestling at the age of three under the guidance of her father, Eikatsu, a former Japanese national champion who built a dojo in the family’s home to introduce Yoshida and her two older brothers to the sport. Eikatsu went on to become Yoshida’s longtime personal coach, in addition to serving as a coach for the Japanese national women’s team. Eikastu died in 2014 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Less than a week later, Yoshida helped the Japanese team win gold at the World Cup.
Yoshida has not competed since claiming silver at the 2016 Rio Games. The 36-year-old says she plans to pursue a career as an actor/TV personality.
Saori Yoshida, who owns a record 16 combined Olympic and world wrestling titles, recently added a much stranger accolade.
The Japanese sports legend shattered the Guinness World Record for most balloons burst by sitting in one minute.
Yoshida, a 35-year-old who last competed in Rio and is assumed to be retired, popped 123 balloons on a Japanese TV show, according to Guinness. As of Jan. 26, the record had been 95 balloons.
Video of Yoshida’s record is here.
Yoshida went into the Rio Olympics looking to become the first woman to win an individual gold medal at four Olympics. She was upset by American Helen Maroulis in the final, in tears wearing the silver medal on the podium.
Yoshida is among the most famous female athletes in Japan, which hosts the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Fellow wrestler Kaori Icho, less of a celebrity, did earn that unprecedented fourth individual gold earlier in the Rio Games.
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