Sports Stars

Tamura Ryoko

(Fukuoka Prefecture, 1975- . Now Tani Ryoko.)

Tamura Ryoko Commonly known as 'Yawara-chan' (yawara is another reading of the character for judo and the nickname comes from a judo manga character), Tamura Ryoko is one of the most popular female athletes in Japan. She has been in the spotlight since she first won the International Women's Judo Championships, held annually in her hometown of Fukuoka, as a 15-year old junior high school student in 1990. She has gone on to win the event every year since. Having won the World Championships 4 times and two silver medals at the Olympics, her greatest ambition was realized when she brought home the 48kg-category gold from Sydney in 2000. Following the Olympics, she was in the news again after it was discovered that she planned to marry Tani Yoshitomo, a professional baseball player with the Orix Blue Wave. The couple married in Paris in the spring of 2004.

Tamura is very small at 146cm and usually wears her hair tied up in a colorful band, making her seem even younger - and cuter - than she is. She often appears in TV commercials and on variety shows. But she is a very tenacious competitor. Following her defeat in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic final, she went on an 4-year, 84-match winning streak before succumbing at the final again in Atlanta, where she was the flag-bearer for the Japanese team. Again, she bounced back this defeat and went undefeated for another 4 years, this time going all the way to the gold medal. In July 2001, Tamura won an unprecedented fifth straight world chamionship gold medal.