Toshihiko Koga, Olympic Gold Medalist, Dead at 53

The judo world is in mourning following the news that Toshihiko Koga has passed away at the age of 53. Officials confirmed the news on Wednesday. No cause of death was provided, but Japan Times reported that Koga was hospitalized last year and underwent surgery after a cancer diagnosis.

One of the biggest names in the judo community, Koga competed at the Olympics three separate times. He did not podium during the Seoul Games in 1988 after losing to Giorgi Tenadze of the then-Soviet Union but triumphantly secured the gold medal during the Barcelona Games in 1992 while dealing with a left leg injury. Koga returned to the podium four years later with a silver medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

"He was so young, and the news of his death is such a shame," said Japanese politician Katsunobu Kato during a press conference on Wednesday. "I express my deepest condolences." In addition to his Olympic career, Koga was also a three-time world champion (Belgrade 1989, Barcelona 1991, and Chiba 1995).

"I'm still in a state of total disbelief," said Hidehiko Yoshida, a fellow competitor who won the men's 78-kg competition at the Barcelona Games. "When Koga won at the Barcelona Olympics, I felt more joy than when I won myself. That both of us won gold medals is something I treasure."

Koga retired from competition in 2000 and embraced a career change. He opened a judo training hall for children. He also coached Japan's national women's judo team at International Pacific University in Okayama, western Japan. One of his students, Ayumi Tanimoto, won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

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"In addition to an amazing feel for judo, Mr. Koga had superb insight, along with his speed and power," said Kosei Inoue, Japan's national judo team manager, per the Kyodo News. "Off the mat, he always had a smile on his face and would cheerfully chat with me. His death came too soon, and he will be missed by the judo world," Inoue said.

The outlet reported that Koga was set to take part in the Olympic torch relay leading up to the postponed Tokyo Games. The relay begins on Thursday in Fukushima Prefecture in the country's northeast. Koga was set to take part in May in his native prefecture of Saga, southwestern Japan.