The great Toshihiko Koga seemed like an undefeatable figure. Certainly, if you watch highlights of his greatest wins you would easily come to the conclusion that no one could even come close to beating him. That's how dominant he was in his prime. But like all judokas, Koga has had his moments of defeat. Six times, to be precise, at international levels.
Koga’s first defeat at the world stage was in the quarterfinal of the 1987 Essen World Championships where he got thrown with ouchi-gari by Mike Swain of the USA (who would go on to win the World title).
The next year, at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Koga got the shock of his life when he came up against Giorgi Tenadze of the Soviet Union who mauled him using a very Georgian-style belt grip. The left-handed Tenadze forced Koga into adopting and extreme right-handed stance, something he was not used to. Tenadze threw Koga twice, both times with a hooking kosoto-gake.
In 1989, Koga became World Champion for the first time but the very next year, at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, he lost to South Korea’s Chung Hoon, who went on to win the gold medal.
Koga would win gold at the 1991 World Championships and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He suffered a serious knee injury in the latter event and that kept him out of the 1993 Hamilton World Championships.
It would not be until 1995 that Koga would compete again at the World Championships. But before the Worlds, he took part in the 1995 Munich World Cup where he would lose to South Korea’s Yoon Dong-Sik in the final.
Koga was ever-dominant domestically but in 1996, he suffered a shock defeat in the All-Japan Weight Class Championships. Hidenori Horikoshi shocked Koga, and the entire country, with a drop ippon-seoi-nage that had Koga flat on his back for ippon.
However, being the reigning World Champion and the most feared player of his era counted for something; and the selection committee ended up choosing Koga for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics despite the loss.
It seemed to be the right choice as Koga easily blitzed his way to the final. However, once there, he would become unstuck going against Djamel Bouras of France, a left-handed mauler in the style of Tenadze.
Koga had a very big, early lead as Bouras incurred penalties up to keikoku (equivalent to waza-ari for Koga). But he squandered that lead by playing the defensive game, hoping to kill time. By the end of the match, Koga too had accumulated penalties up to keikoku. Back then, there was no such thing as Golden Score. It went to referees' decision and Bouras won the hantei.
Koga seemed to have retired after the 1996 Olympics but he would re-emerge in 2000, fighting at U81kg. He competed in only one event, the Moscow World Cup, where he lost to Alexandru Ciupe (a Romanian who has lived in Canada since 1996) in the quarterfinal. Koga had previously beaten Ciupe rather decisively in the 1995 Tokyo World Championships but by 2000, Koga was no longer in his prime. He retired again after that single event in Moscow.
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