When Abe Hifumi and Uta became the first Japanese siblings to win at the same World Championships in Baku 2018, the expectation that they could repeat the feat at Tokyo 2020 began to rise. Now, on the second day of Tokyo 2020 the impossible happened, with Hifumi and Uta becoming the first siblings in Olympic history to both strike gold on the same day in an individual sport.
"The road to get here, parts of it seemed long and others short," said Hifumi after his historic win. "I managed to get to where I am standing today because of the support of so many people. Gratitude - that is what I’m feeling", reacted Uta after her final.
Hifumi was also full of joy to have won Gold on the same day. "This has turned out to be the greatest day ever. I don’t think we, as brother and sister, couldn’t shine any brighter on this stage known as the Tokyo Olympics. So happy", he said.
Coach INOUE Kosei recognised the amazing family achievement after the brother-sister act pulled off their gold-medal performances in quick succession. "Together, he and she have written their own chapter in history," he said. "I think we’re witnessing the birth of two new stars in judo right before our own eyes. I’m counting on them to lead the way for all of judo and I expect a lot from."
When the dream began
It wasn’t until last December that the siblings began to talk openly about the possibility of becoming Olympic champions.
Uta, the younger sister and reigning women’s -52kg world champion, was selected for the Tokyo 2020 team on 3 March 2020. But the All-Japan Judo Federation didn’t make a decision on Hifumi’s category, the men’s -66kg, until April 2020’s National Judo Championships.
The COVID-19 pandemic eventually led to that tournament’s cancellation, with the federation taking the decision to organise a single match between Hifumi and MARUYAMA Joshiro - then no. 3 and no. 2 in the world - with the winner earning a seat on the plane to Tokyo.
The bout, which was the first-ever single match Olympic qualifier in Japanese judo history, began on 13 December 2020. With so much at stake, four minutes of regulation time wasn’t enough to decide who was going to the Olympics. Only after 20 minutes of Golden Score was Hifumi awarded a game-ending waza-ari.
Hifumi had become the 14th and final member of the Japanese national team.
After the bout, he said: “Now I can officially say I'm aiming for a gold medal with my sister at the Olympics. As her bigger brother, I can't afford to lose.”
- Names: ABE Hifumi and Uta
- Relationship: Siblings
- Country: Japan
- Sport: Judo
In their own words
ABE Hifumi on Uta
Interview with Kyodo, after 2018 World Championship win.
My target, more than winning consecutive titles, was for us to win as brother and sister.
Once my younger sister won, I went into my final with even more resolve to win.
ABE Uta on Hifumi
Interview with Tokyo 2020.
I couldn’t have made it this far without my older brother.
It’s impossible to know if I would have even started learning judo without him.
We have to become No. 1 - together
Uta started judo at age five and she “fell in love with the sport from the first day”.
At 15, she became the youngest-ever winner on the IJF World Tour at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix and three years later, at the age of 18, she defeated compatriot SHISHIME Ai in the final to clinch her first world title at the 2018 Baku World Championships.
Hifumi, three years Uta's senior, started judo at the age of six after watching a match on TV. He also enjoyed success from an early age and at the 2014 Tokyo Grand Slam became the youngest-ever Grand Slam winner in men’s judo at age 17. After that, he won eight more Grand Slams and two worlds titles.
At the 2017 Tokyo Grand Slam, the siblings topped the podium for the first time at the same international tournament - Uta in the women’s -52kg and Hifumi in the men’s -66kg. Since then, they have continued the trend at the 2018 World Championships and 2020 Dusseldorf Grand Slam.
Now the siblings have made history by repeating the feat on home soil.
In an interview with the Olympic Channel, Uta said: "To be able to compete in an Olympics in Tokyo is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope to show a performance that everyone can remember."
As Hifumi expressed during a new year's message, their goal is to become Olympic champions as siblings.
Abe Uta said to Tokyo 2020: “25 July will be the day that my brother and I shine.”
And shine they did, in a way never seen before at an Olympic Games.