Ryoko Tani – The First Woman Judoka

Ryoko Tani, the first woman judoka to successfully defend an Olympic title, will compete for a record third consecutive gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

She has won two gold medals in the Olympic games, one in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the other in the 2004 Athens Olympics, both in the 48kg-category. She defeated France's Frederique Jossinet in the final at Athens.

Tani, who by leaving the dojo in 2005 to raise her baby boy for two years ended an unbroken run of six world championships dating back to 1993, has made it clear that motherhood has not softened her.

Months after returning to the mat in 2007, Tani defeated Cuba's Yanet Bermoy to win a record seventh world championship in Brazil last September.

In Beijing, Tani will be suiting up as a wily veteran of four previous Olympics, a fighter who has tasted disappointment and glory in equal shares.

She entered the Olympic arena at the 1992 Barcelona Games as Ryoko Tamura, an unheralded 16-year-old. There, she stunned the world and a string of older, more-fancied opponents but lost to France's Cecile Nowak in the final bout.

Tani returned as a battle-hardened double world champion at Atlanta in 1996, but despite an 84-match winning streak and overwhelming favorite status, was upset by DPR Korea's Kye Sun-hui in the final.

Under intense pressure in Sydney four years later, Tani needed only 36 seconds to win gold, throwing Russia's Lyubov Bruletova to win automatically with an ippon and finally mount the top of the podium.

Tani, who married Olympic baseball player Yoshitomo Tani in 2003, has advertised everything from rice to do-it-yourself goods on Japanese television, but her comic book looks and bubbly public persona believe a ruthless streak on the competition mat.

When she attended her childhood idol, Britain's Karen Briggs, at Barcelona in 1992, she dislocated her shoulder, and kept attacking the injury after her opponent wrenched the joint back into her socket. Briggs, in intense pain, was always disqualified for passivity.