Halls of Fame are always controversial because of mixed opinions about the people who are inducted and the people who are not. Take for example the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Every year when it comes time to induct new Hall of Famers there would be a ton of articles about how the Rock and Roll HOF has left out this person or that person. Or why a particular person wasn’t deserving of being inducted.
The same type of commentary could very well be applied to the IJF Hall of Fame. It’s got some truly great competitors in there such as Anton Geesink, Ingrid Berghmans, Yasuhiro Yamashita, Karen Briggs, Ryoko Tani, Jeon Ki-Young, Kosei Inoue and so on.
But there are also some athletes in there who are not exactly household names in judo, who undoubtedly have done great things for judo in their respective countries but weren’t World or Olympic champions.
At one of the IJF HOF events which I attended, I spoke to one of the inductees who felt that the HOF should really be for those who achieved great results on the World and Olympic stage and not just in their home countries. “I realize the IJF wants better representation from all continents to show how far and wide judo has spread,” he said, but added, “The question is whether that should be the purpose of the HOF”.
There are also officials and coaches who are in the IJF HOF but let’s not get into that. Instead, let’s just focus on the champions. As mentioned earlier, many great champions are already in there. But it’s a mystery why someone like Tadahiro Nomura, the only man to have won three Olympic gold medals, is not in there. Another real head-scratcher is why Toshihiko Koga is missing from the IJF HOF.
I once spoke to an IJF official to try to get some idea of what the criteria for induction into the IJF HOF were. I didn’t get a clear answer but that official said, “It’s not just results, what that person has done after retiring from competition matters too.”
That makes sense and a person’s contribution to judo after competition is, of course, important. You take someone like British World Champion Neil Adams. There are players out there with more World titles and Olympic titles but few have displayed the dominance he exuded during the peak of his prime. A complete player who was equally skilled in standing and groundwork, Adams was feared by even the Japanese.
Adams has been the “voice of judo” since the late 1980s. He has written books, conducted workshops and seminars around the world, does amazing work with Fighting Films and today is a live commentator for the IJF World Tour. It would be hard for anyone to argue that he doesn’t deserve to be in the IJF HOF.
Let’s also look at Italian Olympic Champion Ezio Gamba. Someone could argue that there are many champions out there with more Olympic gold medals and World titles. But Gamba has achieved great heights as the head coach of Russia, where he delivered many Olympic gold medals. He has also been very active in IJF referee seminars. And like Neil Adams, in his prime Gamba was very dominant.
Now, let’s turn our gaze to Koga, who is a three-time World Champion and Olympic champion. It’s hard to argue that he’s not achieved much in the results department. It’s also hard to deny his dominance when he was unquestionably the most feared light-middleweight fighter in the world during the late 80s to mid-90s.
And what about life after competition? Koga wasn’t exactly a hermit who withdrew from the judo world. He has written several books in Japanese. He has also produced several Japanese instructional DVDs as well as one English DVD. In Japan, he regularly appeared on TV variety shows to promote judo. There was one where he fought dozens of opponents in a row. Another one had him pose as a white belt player while visiting an unsuspecting judo club where remarkably, they didn’t recognize him. There was even one where he fought his own son in an exhibition match. It’s hard to say he hasn’t done his part to promote judo among the masses.
As for coaching, double Olympic Champion Ayumi Tanimoto was his student. Not many ex-champions can boast of producing an Olympic champion let alone a double Olympic champion. So, why isn’t Koga in the IJF Hall of Fame?
Who knows, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager a good amount of money that the next time the IJF holds a HOF induction ceremony, Koga will be inducted posthumously. The IJF has published a few articles about him after his death. It has also produced a tribute video for him. It would be ridiculous if Koga wasn’t inducted into the IJF HOF next. And while they’re at it, they might as well induct Nomura as well. He certainly deserves to be in there even if just for results alone.