TOKYO (AFP) – Two-time judo Olympic gold medallist and former Japan national coach Hitoshi Saito has died, aged 54, after a battle with cancer.
Saito won consecutive Olympic golds for the heavyweight over-95 kilogramme category in the 1984 Los Angeles Games and in 1988 in Seoul, in addition to the 1983 Moscow World Judo Championship.
He also served as the coach for Japan’s national team for the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Games, training the likes of Athens gold medallist Keiji Suzuki.
Saito’s stellar international career was nevertheless overshadowed by national hero Yasuhiro Yamashita, who won the open-weight category in the Los Angeles Olympics and was a nine-time Japanese national champion.
Despite his Olympic achievements, Saito never beat Yamashita in their three meetings at the national championships, including one bout a year after the Los Angeles Olympics.
“He was my biggest rival during my competitive years,” said Yamashita, who now serves as the deputy head of the All Japan Judo Federation, for which Saito served as a board member.
Physicians found a tumour near Saito’s gallbladder in 2013, and his condition deteriorated at the end of last year, reports said.