Shohei Ono: A Career

Last week it was announced that superstar and dominant Judoka, Shohei Ono, would retire. He is going to focus on coaching, which, considering his nearly flawless career, is an understandable step. Here we look back at his career. 

Shohei Ono, the 30-year-old judoka from Yamaguchi, Japan, holds just about every title a judoka can hold. He is a two-time men’s U73kg Olympic judo champion, choosing now to step down from future competition, including the 2024 Paris Games. Ono is also a three-time world champion, and he recently took part in April’s Japan championship but has not returned to competing within his weight class since he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ono made a name for himself early on. In 2013, his first world championships, he won the championship after a set of dominant Ippon victories. He holds one of the highest Ippon rates in judo. With the exemption of some fights from which he was forced to withdraw, he is undefeated in individual competition against international opponents since August 2014. He has also won every major championship he has competed in since 2015. Former Japan coach Kosei Inoue called him “the world’s strongest judoka.”

As of August 2021, Ono’s record was a total of 111 fights, with 101 wins (73 by Ippon, giving him a percentage of wins of 65.76%!), and only 3 losses by Ippon in his entire career. Ono is reportedly eying a move to the United Kingdom which hosts an overseas coaches’ training program organised by the Japanese Olympic Committee. Fellow Judoka, Masashi Ebinuma, is currently in Cardiff the United Kingdom.

Judo is not only a sport but also a way of life. It consists of an ethical code and a set of customs, instituted by founder Jigoro Kano. Ono has sought to live by the code, dedicating his life to Judo. In an interview for the International Judo Federation, Ono said ”I left my family when I was 12 years old, and I have lived my life only for judo.” He wrote his master’s thesis about the osoto garb, in which he specialises, proving his dedication to the sport. He has at times let fame get the better of him, perhaps, as he was involved in a scandal at his university where he ordered younger members of his judo club to slap freshmen in the face. As any Judoka will know, the face is off-limits on and off the mat! Perhaps he should’ve asked the students to perform their best osoto gari instead…

It is safe to say that Ono will not be missed by opponents on the mat, but the judo world will miss having such a thrilling fighter to watch. Judo is an Olympic sport, but it can be challenging to get into the sport without knowing what to look for. Once you realise the power, strength, stamina, technique, and flexibility required of the athletes you will begin to appreciate the wonderful sport of Judo. Few fighters have excelled in the sport to the degree of Ono, and few have become so popular. We have been graced with a superstar to watch on the mat, and his presence will continue to be felt as a coach on the side of the mat for many years to come. 

Photo credit: IJF Emanuele Di Feliciantonio / International Judo Federation

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