Four years after amassing eight gold medals at the Athens Games, poor form and a depleted team may weaken Japan’s stranglehold over judo in Beijing.
Seven of Japan’s eight Athens champions will return to the tatami in Beijing but the ageing team arrives with only one world champion and a series of below par results at recent international tournaments. Japan’s judokas were humbled by China and South Korea in the medal standings at the Asian Games in 2006 and failed to make an impression at the last year's world championships in Rio.
The team has also bid farewell to former champions Tadahiro Nomura and Kosei Inoue who failed to qualify this year. The team will still depend on veterans to defend its Olympic honour and much of the focus will be on Ryoko Tani who has qualified for her fifth Games and first since becoming Japan's most famous sporting mother (in 2005).
Pint-sized Tani's bid for a third gold in the 48-kg class may include a rematch against France's Frederique Jossinet, who she bested to win the 2004 title.
Tani may also have to repeat her 2007 world championship victory over silver medallist Yanet Bermoy, one of several challengers from a strong Cuban line-up that includes 34-year-old Atlanta gold medallist Driulis Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who beat France's Lucie Decosse at last year's worlds in the 63-kg class, has also qualified for her fifth Olympics.
Athens silver medallist Sun Hui Kye of North Korea, who, as a 16-year-old, stunned Tani to win gold in Atlanta, will again compete in the women's 57-kg category after beating Spain's Isabel Fernandez at last year's worlds.
China are expected to build on their 2004 haul of one gold and three bronze and their best hope is Tong Wen, who defeated Athens gold medallist Maki Tsukada of Japan in the women's heavyweight final at the world championships.
France's 10 Olympic judo champions put them a distant second behind Japan's 31. They will be keen to make amends for a disappointing Games in Athens, the first since 1984 where France failed to produce a gold medallist.