Judo World

Legends of Judo: Kosei Inoue, Olympic champion and Japanese supercoach

Japanese national judo team head coach Kosei Inoue (C) looks at his athletes during the open training session in Rio de Janeiro on August 1, 2016 ahead of Rio 2016 Olympic Games. / AFP / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA        (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
Legends of judo: Kosei Inoue
01:12 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Kosei Inoue is former gold medal-winning Japanese judoka

Now retired, he coaches Japan's national team

Inoue believes judo is more than a sport, it's also a way of life

CNN  — 

In Japan, where judo is more than just a sport, Kosei Inoue is no ordinary athlete.

Essentially unbeatable between 1999 and 2003, the half-heavyweight judoka won three world titles and Olympic gold, placing him among the greatest of all time.

Now head coach of the Japanese team, the 39-year-old is passing on his secrets to the next generation, proving just as successful off the tatami as he was on it during a stellar 10-year career at the top.

“We look at judo not only as a sport but as a ‘budo,’ or martial way,” Inoue tells CNN.

“There is the competition – we come to a World Championships and aim to win a gold medal – but there is something far bigger behind this.

“By practicing judo every day, it really helps you win in life in general. In judo, you always get thrown and you always have to stand up. It’s very similar to life itself.”

READ: Five things we learned from the judo World Championships

Early years

Inoue, like so many others in Japan, took up the sport at a young age, working under the tutelage of his father.

The youngster would train relentlessly every day, only stopping when forced by his teachers.

“I was extremely motivated to do my best throughout my career,” he says. “The meaning of judo is not just to win or lose, but to contribute to the betterment of society and always give back.

“The creator of judo, Jigoro Kano, outlined its two main themes: the development of the self and a contribution to society. When I practice judo, both as an athlete and as a coach, I always keep those in my heart.”

Rarely defeated on the mat, some of Inoue’s biggest challenges have come away from judo.

kosei inoue sydney 2000 mother portrait gold medal

READ: Ryoko Tani – The greatest ever?

He lost his mother aged just 21, famously clutching a framed photograph of her as he stood atop the podium at Sydney 2000 a year later.

Legends of Judo: Kosei Inoue

Bangkok 1998 Asian Games: Gold Birmingham 1999 World Championship: GoldSydney 2000 Olympics: Gold All Japan Judo Championships 2001: GoldMunich 2001 World Championships: Gold All Japan Judo Championships 2002: GoldBusan 2002 Asian Games: GoldAll Japan Judo Championships 2003: GoldOsaka 2003 World Championships: Gold

“I wanted to dedicate this win to my mother – this is for her,” the half heavyweight (-100kg) champion said at the time. “To me, she was the best mother in the world and I wanted the world to see her.”

The entire family had shared a dream of Inoue one day winning Olympic gold; the realization of that ambition changed his life overnight.

“The Olympic Games is not just a sporting event; it’s where the world unites,” says Inoue, recalling his now-famous win over Nicholas Gill of Canada in the final.

“When I won at Sydney 2000 I was just 22 years old and still a university student. My life changed forever, but I was young and I felt like my career was just beginning.”

Inoue won every single match at Sydney by ippon – judo’s equivalent to a knockout – and the watching world expected him to dominate for many years to come.

The Japanese judoka didn’t let up, taking home further gold medals at the next two World Championships – held in Munich and Osaka – as well as three consecutive titles in the open weight category at the All Japan Championships, defeating far larger opponents.

But he wasn’t able to maintain his imperious form at the Athens 2004 Olympics, crashing out at the quarterfinal stage to Dutchman Elco van der Geest.