Hidehiko Yoshida is a World and Olympic Champion. He had one of the most stylish and devastating uchimatas the sport has ever known but he was also very versatile. And he had an aura of dominance on the mat only topped by his teammate Toshihiko Koga who passed away last year. Yoshida celebrates his 53rd birthday today.
Yet, when people talk about the greats of the sport, Yoshida barely ever gets mentioned. He is not considered one of the greats. That’s probably partly because he failed to live up to his potential (and what potential he had) and partly because he became an MMA player after retiring from judo (this is also probably the reason Poland’s Pawel Nastula isn’t as celebrated as he should be).
Let’s look at Yoshida’s track record and note all the missed opportunities he had along the way. One thing should be said is that a player’s dominance over the field is not always reflected in their World or Olympic results.
Neil Adams, for example, was a widely feared judoka in his time and arguably the most dominant in his weight class in the early to mid-80s. But Adams has one World title and no Olympic gold. There were other players with more World and/or Olympic titles who didn’t come close to how impactful he was on the judo scene. Similarly, Yoshida’s one World and one Olympic gold medal, as impressive as that is, is still not reflective of just how incredibly dominant and feared he was when he was in his prime.
For many players, the Olympic gold medal is the ultimate achievement. Even a world title doesn’t come close to it in terms of what it means to the player. But for Yoshida, winning the Olympic gold medal was the easy part. The world title was the one that kept eluding him until the tail end of his career when he finally won at the World’s.
Yoshida’s first World Championship was the 1991 Barcelona World Championships. There he lost to Antonie Wurth of The Netherlands. Although he would end up securing a bronze medal, Yoshida was not particularly notable or noticed by many.
That all changed after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he put in the performance of a lifetime. He had six fights and won each one with an ippon including his final against the stylish American, Jason Morris. While Morris looked cock-sure in his approach in his other matches, when he came up against Yoshida he was retreating all the way. Mindful of Yoshida’s powerful uchimata, Morris kept back-tracking and pulling away from Yoshida’s grip. But he couldn’t stop the Yoshida, who was on a roll. He flung Morris over with a textbook example of uchimata which was so slick and smooth that it seemed like it was staged. But of course it was not. That’s just how good Yoshida was at his tokui-waza. If Koga was the man synonymous with ippon-seoi-nage, after Barcelona 92 Yoshida was the one identified with uchimata.
Read the full Yoshida career review at JudoCrazy