Olympic judo great Koga dies aged 53

Barcelona 1992 Olympic judo champion Toshihiko Koga has passed away aged 53. © IJF
Barcelona 1992 Olympic judo champion Toshihiko Koga has passed away aged 53. © IJF

Tokyo, Japan, March 25, 2021: Japanese judo star Toshihiko Koga, a three-time Olympian, has died at the age of 53, Tokyo 2020 reports.

The Olympic champion at 71kg at Barcelona 1992 and silver medal-winner at Atlanta 1996 passed away on Wednesday, March 24.

Known for his creativity, his untimely loss has reverberated around Japan and the world of judo.

"I remember clearly how he was the captain of the Japanese team for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and ended up winning the gold medal despite hurting his knee," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

"He was so young, and the news of his death is such a shame. I express my deepest condolences.”

It was Koga's artistry and courage that most connected him with fans and fellow practitioners of the sport he loved. 

After retiring from the sport, Koga coached the women’s national judo team and won the hearts of the nation following his emotional embrace with Ayumi Tanimoto after she won gold in the women’s 63kg class at Athens 2004.

The International Judo Federation was among the many to pay tribute: "The entire judo family joins in the sadness that the news of his death has caused and offers its most sincere condolences to his family and friends, to the All Japan Judo Federation and to all those whom have been dreaming of his creativity for so many years. Thank you to the artist!"

Kosei Inoue, Japan's current national judo team manager, added: "In addition to an amazing feel for judo, Mr. Koga had superb insight, along with his speed and power. Off the mat, he always had a smile on his face and would cheerfully chat with me. His death came too soon, and he will be missed by the judo world."

Koga, a three-time world champion after clinching gold in Belgrade 1989, Barcelona 1991 and Chiba 1995, underwent cancer treatment last year.