Tani was the huge favourite to retain her title, but a month before the Games she had a bizarre accident.
During a training session, she fell backwards and her big toe was caught between two mats. The result was a nasty injury, which caused her considerable pain, but it did not stop her from competing.
Standing just 1.46m in height, Tani was one of the most popular athletes in Japan. She was known as “Yawara-chan”, after a popular cartoon character, and she even had her own video game character. By the time she arrived in Athens she had already won six world titles (a seventh would follow in 2007) and she was widely regarded as the finest Japanese exponent of the country’s national sport. To put her achievements into context, she had not lost an international match since the Olympic final in 1996 and she showed little sign of ending her winning streak.
Sure enough Tani simply demolished most of her opponents in Athens, with a ruthless wave of attacks.
In the final, she faced France's Frédérique Jossinet, and unlike all of her previous encounters, the bout lasted the full five minutes. The result, though, was never really in doubt, for Tani had scored a koka within the first 12 seconds and followed that up with a yuko. When her victory, was confirmed, there were tears of joy from Tani, and wild celebrations among the sizeable Japanese contingent who had travelled all the way to Greece to support her. Tani had become the first female judoka to win consecutive Olympic gold medals.