When future Olympian Misato Nakamura first joined the Sobukan Yoshida Dojo, she was so skinny that the dojo manager didn't think she'd ever amount to anything.
“She was really skinny and did not stand out at all,” Masaru Yoshida says, remembering the lightweight junior high school judoka. "I told her that if she didn't eat, she wouldn't get any stronger."
Naturally a light eater, Nakamura now spends as much time at the dinner table chowing down plates of food as she did on the judo mats.
“(All that eating) was really exhausting,” Nakamura, 23, says of those days. But she was determined to get better and stronger.
Nakamura went on to win the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics four years ago. She also won the gold medal in the 52-kilogram category in the 2009 and 2011 World Judo Championships. Representing Japan in the same weight class, the Hachioji native will be going for the gold at this summer's London Games.
Nakamura first encountered judo as a third-grader. She joined a dojo at the Takao police station in Tokyo's Hachioji, eventually moving on to the judo stronghold of Sobukan Yoshida Dojo in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“The basic foundations of my judo style were developed at the Yoshida dojo,” Nakamura says.
Nakamura was a late bloomer. She failed to score any impressive results until her second year of junior high. Her coaches back then remember that Nakamura's mental toughness and dedication to training were much stronger than her peers.
“Most ordinary (female) judoka don’t feel frustrated when they lose to higher-ranking judoka or if they get toppled by male athletes," Yoshida says. "But Misato did.”
Closely observing Nakamura’s intense training style, Yoshida says he always knew that she would one day “conquer the world.”
A victory at a spring tournament in her second year of junior high was the start of a winning streak for Nakamura, and she soon was recognized as an up-and-coming star of the Japanese judo world.
Nakamura has always strived to be the best and sets high goals for herself. After she won a Kanto regional match in her second year of junior high, Yoshida congratulated her and tried to shake her hand. But Nakamura refused, saying, “I’m not where I want to be yet.”
She finally did shake hands with Yoshida when she won an individual event at a national-level tournament after the Kanto competition.
“It seemed as if she had decided not to shake my hand until she won a national competition,” Yoshida says. “Nakamura is the type to keep her competitive spirit to herself.”
Yoshida is hoping for one more winning handshake after his strong-willed judoka captures the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
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