Soichi Hashimoto missed out on the Rio Olympics
Now his focused is on qualifying for Tokyo 2020
He was inspired by watching Kosei Inoue win gold in Sydney
Soichi Hashimoto could have stayed away from the Rio Olympics.
Having missed out on selection for Japan’s judo team – in the -73kg division – he could have been forgiven for staying at home.
“I was disappointed in myself, watching the Rio Olympic Games from the sidelines,” Hashimoto tells CNN on missing out to Shohei Ono, who would go on to win gold.
“This was the main reason why I went to Rio, to feel the disappointment and feel the atmosphere at the Olympic Games.
“When I was watching the medal ceremony, I imagined myself on the highest spot of the podium in four years time.”
While Rio was heartache for Hashimoto, sitting out the Tokyo 2020 Games in his home city is unthinkable.
It’s that fear that drives him now.
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“To have the Olympic Games being held in your own country, not many athletes have this opportunity,” he says. “Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.
“I am very motivated and, if I have the chance to represent Japan, I will be under a lot of pressure. However, I am more excited than anything.”
Hashimoto is the current world champion in his weight category and generally regarded as one of the best judokasjuodk in the world.
But his biggest battle is at home. After Rio, Ono took time out of judo to pursue his studies at Tenri University but the double world champion is expected to return to the fold for Tokyo 2020.
Despite his Rio disappointment, Hashimoto is unbeaten since 2015 on the International Judo Federation Circuit.
But the 26-year-old’s lack of experience at a World Championship or Olympic Games counted against him in the eyes of the selectors.
Nevertheless, his profile is growing in his homeland. Renowned for his dynamic style – his quest is “to win every contest by ippon” – he is also one of Tokyo’s more eligible bachelors.
Even in the country that created the sport, Hashimoto admits it still ranks some way behind the likes of baseball and football in the popularity stakes. But he’s made it his quest to “put the spotlight on judo by putting on a spectacular performance on the world stage.”
For now, there are no autograph hunters. The extent of his celebrity, he says, is occasionally being recognized while grocery shopping.
Although he is yet to make his Olympic bow, Hashimoto been heavily influenced by the Games.
He had already taken up the sport at the behest of his parents, whose son “enjoyed physical activity and was very competitive,” when he watched Kosei Inoue become Olympic champion in Sydney in 2000.
“I still remember watching our current head coach [Inoue] win the Olympic gold,” he recalls. “It was at this moment that I thought that I wanted to be No. 1 in the world.”
Inoue would end his career as a three-time world champion while Hashimoto currently has just one world crown to his name, picked up at the recent championships in Budapest where Japan topped the medal table with eight golds and 14 medals in all.
“I was so happy to take home the world title,” he says of his win over Rustam Orujov for the gold. “I suffered many injuries but I believe it didn’t affect me on the day of the fights.”
He employed what he calls “the Hashimoto special” but it is better known in judo parlance as sode tsurikomi goshi, effectively a hip throw in which he grips an opponents’ sleeves and then turns to face the same direction as them.
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The lead-up to the world championships was, by his own admission, stressful. Hashimoto latterly unwound with a holiday to Hawaii.
Now back in training, he is focused on one thing for the next three years.
“Right now, I want to focus all of my energy on the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.”