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Women's judo pioneer gets gold medal 50 years after victory

Video by Alix LE BOURDON

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-16

A 74-year-old American woman on Friday received a gold medal for winning a male-only judo tournament back in 1959. Rena 'Rusty' Kanokogi has long been campaigning for equal treatment of genders in judo competitions.

Rena ‘Rusty’ Kanokogi remembers how she disguised herself as a man to take part in a man-only judo competition about 50 years ago.

 

The American woman cut her hair short and bound her breasts with ace bandages to take part in a New York judo competition as part of a male team.

 

Back in 1959, women were not allowed to take part in judo tournaments. But with her athletic shape, fiery character, and flowing kimono, Kanokogi managed to pose as a man until her victory, which allowed her team to win the championship.

 

But on that fateful day, the competition’s judges finally uncovered the truth.

 

“The tournament director looked at me and asked: ‘Are you a girl’?” Kanokogi recalled in an interview with the Associated Press. “I felt like saying: ‘Are you a cow?’”

 

Kanogoki, now 74, eventually had to forfeit her gold medal to avoid her team from being eliminated.

 

Praised by Japan’s emperor

 

But fifty years later, the YMCA of Greater New York has returned Kanokogi’s gold to her in celebration of her life’s work. “I’ve showed I was right and there was discrimination”, ‘Rusty’ said, her hard-won medal draped around her neck.

 

This gold medal crowns the judoka’s victory in another fight – equal treatment of genders in sport, particularly in judo. She went as far as remortgaging her house to help create a female judo championship.

 

She also campaigned to get female judo recognised as an Olympic sport. It was only in 1992 that female judokas were allowed to take part in the Olympics, 28 years after male judokas. Two years later, she joined the International Women’s Hall of Fame and set up a special fund to help female athletes to access high-level competition.

 

Kanokogi has also become popular in Japan, the country where the martial art originated in the late 19th century. Last February, Japan’s emperor praised her as “the mother of judo’s women”.

 

Date created : 2009-08-22

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