Olympic champions were honoured as the pivotal figures in the sport’s history and the current leaders were recognised alongside an all-star cast of musical performers, artists and entertainers.
IJF President Mr. Marius L. Vizer, accompanied Guest of Honour, Her Imperial Highness Princess Tomohito of Mikasa into the gala to mark the start of the memorable evening alongside the President of All Japan Judo Federation, Mr. Yamashita Yasuhiro and President of Kodokan Mr. Uemura Haruki.
President Vizer said: “Your Imperial Highness, President Mori, President Coates, Mr. Minister, President Yamashita, President Uemura, guests, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honour to celebrate 55 years since judo joined the Olympics.
“We celebrate the heroes of every Olympics from the beginning until today. Shihan Jigoro Kano offered the world one of the highest values of humanity in judo. Through judo we have integration in society, friendship, peace and a way to a better world.
“I thank the AJJF, President Yamashita, President of Kodokan Mr. Uemura Haruki, I hope you enjoy a nice gala, the art exhibition the draw and gender equity conference and after a wonderful World Championships.
“We will come back in 2020 with the judo team in the Olympics for the first time. Thank you all for your help, thank you to all Japanese community, thank you to Jigor Kano, thank you very much everyone, have a nice evening."
President of All Japan Judo Federation, Mr. Yamashita Yasuhiro said: “Dear distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, judo family members from all over the world, it is a great honour for me personally ad professionally to welcome you all here to the gala.
“I express my sincere appreciation to Mr. Vizer for generously hosting this gala and his warm welcome. Today we celebrate the 55th anniversary of judo as an Olympic sport. Tokyo 1964 is where judo was first included, the competition took place at the newly-build Nippon Budokan. This iconic location will be the venue for the World Championships 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We hope to attract a new generation of judo lovers. Judo is a tool of lifelong human education, a sport with a moral code and platform of peace and international cooperation. Judo brings us together here today. I wish you all a memorable stay in Tokyo and please enjoy your evening."
President of Kodokan Mr. Uemura Haruki, said: “The first Olympic Games were held in 1964, with 31 judoka from 27 countries and we progressed to 390 judoka in in from 136 countries.
“The IJF was founded in 1951 with nine member countries. Through promotion from the Olympics and Worlds, however, judo has spread around the world as a global culture; this is the result of tireless efforts made by our pioneers.
“I hope the judoka will practice the sport to the best of their abilities and together we will work to drive judo forward.”
Her Imperial Highness Princess Tomohito of Mikasa appointed as new IJF Ambassador
President Vizer receives President’s Trophy
Mr. John Coates, President of the Australian Olympic Committee and Chair of Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission, awarded Mr. Vizer the prestigious President’s Trophy.
“Dr. Thomas BACH has asked me to convey his best wishes and hopes you have a wonderful World Championships and looks forward to seeing you all next year at the Olympics.
“Mr. Vizer, since 2007, since your election, you’ve made many changes, including to the rules and tv presentation and now judo is one of the leading sports, your not dependent on the Olympic Games. We look forward to seeing the Tokyo 2020 team event, I’d like to present you with the President’s Trophy, for your remarkable contribution to judo and to the Olympic movement.”
President of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mr. Mori Yoshiro receives IJF Gold Medal
Mr. Vizer awarded the President of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mr. Mori Yoshiro, with the coveted IJF Gold Medal in recognition of the inclusion of the team event for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The attention then turned to judo’s legendary champions who were honoured as the IJF recognised the best judoka from each Olympics.
The best athlete for the inaugural 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games was the late Anton Geesink and his son, Mr. Anton Geesink Jr, accepted the award.
“Your Highness, Mr. President, after 55 years my father can still make the judo family proud. With our strong President I’m sure 55 is only the beginning, thank you very much.”
The best athlete of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games was the late Willem Ruska. His wife, Mrs. Elisabeth Ruska, said: “It’s an honour and a pleasure to be here and thank you all for remembering my husband.”
The best athlete for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games was Uemura Haruki.
“Thank you President, I’m so happy, thank you very much to the judo family,” said the Kodokan President.
The best athlete of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games was a tie between two famed champions in Ezio Gamba and Robert van de Walle.
Gamba said: “Thank you first to my family, my father said are you going to win something or not, you must continue, I say thank you to my dad and my wife who supports me all the time.”
Van de Walle said: “I just want to say I feel fantastic to receive this award and I’m very proud. Thank you very much.”
Los Angeles 1984
The best athlete of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games was Yamashita Yasuhiro.
Yamashita said: “I feel very honoured to be awarded this prize in front of our judo family. Since I can first remember judo was my life. Without judo I would not be the person I am today. I look forward to working with all of you to progress judo, thank you very much.”
The best athlete for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games was revealed as the late Saito Hitoshi. His wife, Mrs. Saito Mieko said: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude, on behalf of my late husband, to say thank you to all of you. This is a very great honour to have this award tonight. I wish you all the best and a great future for judo and all judoka worldwide.”
The best Male athlete of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games was Waldemar Legein who said: “Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, I’d like to thank the IJF for this award. It means a lot to me. I would like to thank my family, my coach and my country.”
The best Female athlete for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games was Miriam Blasco who said: “Good evening judo family, the Barcelona Olympics was the best Games for Spain, I was the first Spanish woman to win a gold medal there from any sport, thank you very much to the IJF, I’m very pleased to be here.”
The best male athlete of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was David Douillet.
“Dear Mr. President, dear all friends of judo family, I’m very proud to have this award. Judo gibes me all of the values of life, I would like to congratulate Mr. Vizer for his work and protection and promotion of our sport.
“I have spent all of my life in judo and I always will. Thank you very much.”
The best female athlete for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was Ulla Werbrouck.
Ms. Werbrouck said: “Thank you for the award but thank you for the moment. For me this is like coming home. It’s so great to be back in Japan. Thank you very much.”
The best male athlete of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games was Inoue Kosei.
Inoue said: “It is a big honour to receive this award today in front of the judo family. As the coach of the Japanese team I look forward to continuing to support our team and also judoka from around the world with spirit and fairplay. I hope the Olympics will inspire many people.”
The best female athlete for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games was Tani Ryoko.
Tani said: “Good evening everyone. Congratulations to judo on the 55th anniversary of judo. I also want to thank all of the IJF members for developing the sport internationally and I wish you all the best. Congratulations Mr. Vizer and I’m looking forward to the World Championships and Olympic Games very much.”
The best male athlete of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games was Ilias Iliadis who said: “Thank you very much everyone, thank you Mr. Vizer. When I watched the 2000 Olympics I was just a child and dreamed of winning the Olympics. Dreams come true.”
The best female athlete, for the second time tonight, this time, for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games was Tani Ryoko.
“Thank you very much to everyone who has supported me and I’ll remember this award forever.”
The best male athlete of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was Ole Bischof.
"When I was a small boy in 1988 I was watching the Seoul Olympics and that evening I ran to my dad and asked him if I could become an Olympic champion He lifted me up and looked at me and said son you can do it. It took me 20 years but what I found on that journey was not only a medal but connecting with people and being part of this wonderful judo family.
“Being here tonight and receiving this award makes me very happy. I’m also at home while I’m here with you, thank you everyone.”
The best female athlete for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was Alina Dumitru.
“Good evening, it is an honour to be here tonight. I’d like to thank Mr. Vizer and the IJF. Judo gave me the opportunity to change my life. I am forever grateful to this amazing sport and happy anniversary.”
The best male athlete for the 2012 London and also the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was Teddy Riner.
“Hi everybody, hello judo family, thank you very much this award, it’s a beautiful award and I’m very pleased.
The best female athlete for the 2012 London Olympic Games is Lucie Decosse.
“I thank you all, I wish you all the best and good luck at the Worlds and especially to the French team (laughs).”
The best female athlete for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was Kayla Harrison.
Unfortunately, she could not be with us this evening, but on her behalf, we invite executive director of USA Judo, Mr. Keith Bryant, to receive the award.
“Good evening, it’s my humble honour to collect this award. Kayla sends her apologies that she cannot attend tonight but sends her gratitude to the IJF for this award and wishes you all a lovely evening.”
All the evening's winners then gathered together on the stage for a group photo.
There was only one person who could bring such an evening to a close and that duty fell upon the one and only Al Bano.
The United Nations Ambassador against drugs and FAO Goodwill Ambassador and IJF Ambassador, who has 26 golden records and eight platinum records wowed a star-studded audience with some of his biggest hits on the eve of the draw for the World Judo Championships Tokyo 2020 Presented by PARK24 GROUP.
Al Bano was also joined by renowned Romanian singer and now book author Irina Nicolae for a special performance.
The countdown to the Worlds continues on Saturday with an art exhibition at the Kodokan, the competition draw and a gender equity conference.