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Judo: Yujiro Seto Wins Bronze, Taking the Baton from a Men’s 66 kg Division Legend!

The judo competition of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games began on August 28. Standing on the tatami mats of the Nippon Budokan in his Paralympic Games debut, Yujiro Seto (66 kg division) looked unusually large.

He faced a formidable opponent in the quarterfinals, but...

Seto is an athlete with a track record of applying himself to judo for able-bodied people until high school and participating in the Kinshuki National High School Judo Tournament. He switched to judo for the blind and visually impaired in 2017. Seto quickly built muscle in his upper body while adapting to judo matches that start with a grip. His physique on competition day at Tokyo 2020 actually appeared the largest it has ever been.

Yujiro Seto, member of the Japanese national Tokyo Paralympic judo team and current student at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka.
photo by Jun Tsukida

It was not just looks. When his match started, Seto’s physical center did not waver in the slightest, although his opponent grabbed him forcefully to throw off his stance. Spectators could just about see his opponent’s stamina quickly being exhausted while they grappled. Seto’s bearing during the match was also impressive, making his body appear bigger.

However, it seems Seto had the uncomfortable feeling in the situation that he could not move like he expected. Although he won his first match with an ippon by using the ouchi-gari reap known as his specialty, he was defeated with two waza-ari by Uchkun Kuranbaev of Uzbekistan in the subsequent quarterfinals. Kuranbaev was a formidable opponent who would go on to win the gold medal; nevertheless, things did not quite seem to come together for Seto, who said, “I faced my second match without getting over the poor impression from the first match.”

Overcoming intense pressure, for a bronze medal decided by an ippon

In the third match that was the consolation round, Seto’s opponent Munkhbat Aajim of Mongolia snagged a waza-ari. Still, his movements looked more relaxed compared with the first and second matches, and Seto clinched an ippon win with an ouchi-gari in response to his opponent’s attempts, advancing to the deciding match for the bronze medal.

Seto’s facial expression in the post-match interview area, where he gave the clipped answer, “I have to win the next one,” was more rigid than fans had previously seen. Was the powerful Seto feeling intense pressure like never before? The tension hanging in the air was enough to make anyone watching him think so.

Then he went on to the match for bronze. In this match with the medal at stake, Seto’s opponent also gained the first points with a waza-ari. However, Seto’s composure after that was different from his earlier matches. When he immediately made up for the waza-ari with an uki-waza throw, his opponent tried an uchi-mata throw, which Seto countered with an uchi-mata-sukashi slip. The bronze medal in his first Paralympic Games was determined by an ippon in which Seto cleanly dropped his opponent from his back.

“I threw my opponent more cleanly than I thought I could,” Seto recalled about the deciding match for third place. The match was determined by an ippon that took all of Seto’s efforts.
photo by Jun Tsukida

The day of drawing even with a legendary winner of three consecutive Paralympic Games

Seto contended for his spot in the national team’s 66 kg division with Satoshi Fujimoto, a legendary winner of three consecutive Paralympic Games, from Atlanta 1996 to Athens 2004. Fujimoto had also won medals after that at the Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Seto took a firm hold on the baton passed from Fujimoto, who brought medals home to Japan from five past Paralympic Games. Seto’s comment after his matches that he “fulfilled the minimum role” was likely due to the feeling of being Fujimoto’s successor.

The two first competed against each other in 2017. Seto was utterly defeated by Fujimoto, but he rapidly got stronger after that, and matches between the athletes developed into battles with a tense atmosphere each time. Seto himself said what he learned from matches with Fujimoto “became a part” of him. There are times Seto receives advice from Fujimoto before international competitions, and he also took lessons in technique and the use of his body from Fujimoto for the current Paralympic Games.

At 21 years old, Seto is still young, but the day when he will reign in the division Fujimoto once did may not be far off. His only loss at the Paralympic Games was when the gold medalist was his opponent. Seto’s final words were that Kuranbaev “is not an opponent I can’t beat.” Looking at his performance in the match that decided the bronze medal, it can be said that Seto possesses sufficient ability.

When Seto was asked what he would tell Fujimoto about Tokyo 2020 when he next met him, he replied like so:

“I’ll tell him I won a medal, but I want him to know I’ll beat him again next time, because he must also be thinking he’ll win our next match.”

The customary gentle smile returned to Seto’s face.

Seto appearing at the medalist press conference the following day. He seemed happy to share an anecdote about his sister calling to say she would treat him to a meal after he won the medal.
photo by Sayaka Masumoto

edited by TEAM A
text by Shigeki Masutani
key visual by Jun Tsukida

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