(Beijing, China) - It had been 16 years since a Japanese player lost an Olympic match, but the streak ended on Saturday when Taraje Williams-Murray (Wakefield, Mass. / Bronx, N.Y.) upset reigning Asian and Paris Super World Cup Champion Hiroaki Hiroaka (JPN).
Hiroaka ascended to the Japanese lightweight throne that was long held by three-time Olympic Champion Tadahiro Nomura (JPN) and was expected by many to pick up where Nomura left off.
Williams-Murray outgripped his opponent throughout the match and Hiroaka was awarded a penalty that gave the American the lead.
"I had the opportunity to do some scouting before the match. I was extremely well prepared. My coaches back at home, Jimmy Pedro and Rhadi Ferguson, gave me some keys to stick to and I came in confident," Williams-Murray said. "Going into today I was very confident that it was my day to make it to the podium. My coaches back home watched some video and came up with a game plan. My coach, Eddie Liddie, on the mat side, was very good and kept me on track. It was a very tight match against a very technical opponent."
Hiroaka responded to the penalty by throwing Williams-Murray quickly, but the American spun out of the throw and returned to his game plan.
"His best technique is his ko uchi gari and I didn't want to give him an opportunity to get that off," Willisams-Murray said. "In certain situations when I didn't stick to my gripping sequence, he was able to turn and almost throw me a couple times so I tried to avoid those situations."
Both players continued attacking, but Hiroaka could not score and Williams-Murray upset the #5-ranked player in the world.
"It was an extremely hard fought battle and I was able to get the victory by the smallest of margins," he said after the match.
In the next round, Williams-Murray and Javier Guedez (VEN) matched up for the right to fight reigning World Champion Ruben Houkes (NED) in the quarter-finals.
Neither player scored until the fourth minute when Houkes threw Williams-Murray for ippon.
"I did everything I possibly could," Williams-Murray said. "Unfortunately with judo if you make mistakes it can end your day and that was the story with me today."
Guedez led by a penalty in his match against Houkes, but fell behind when Houkes threw him for ippon and the win that eliminated Williams-Murray from further competition.
After two Olympic Games, Williams-Murray's plans for the future remain uncertain.
"I've said throughout this that as soon as the Games were over I would take some time to think about it. It's an unfortunate way to end my career, if that is the case, but I do need to take some time to think about it," he said. "I'm going to return to school in September to finish my Master's and then I'm definitely going to have to get a nine to five to pay the bills." (Laughs.)
In the 48kg division, Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / Richmond, Calif.) got her wish when the draws came out on Thursday night and she found herself fighting seven-time World Champion Ryoko Tani (JPN) in the first round.
"I was sitting at home leading up to the Games and I said to my boyfriend ‘I have this feeling that I was going to draw her' and I wanted to. I wanted to fight her... I have never competed against her," Matsumoto said.
Although Matsumoto did not produce what would have likely been the upset of the Games, she did hold her own with the two-time Olympic Champion, going a full five minutes against a player who hasn't lost at the Games since 1996 when she placed second to North Korean star Sun Hui Kye.
In the second minute of the match, Tani threw Matsumoto for a yuko (quarter-point) score. Matsumoto earned two penalties that equaled another yuko score, giving Tani the win at the end of the five minutes by two yukos.
"I really wanted to take it to her, but I wasn't able to do everything I wanted to do," Matsumoto said. "I was just trying to do what I could to get past her toughness, but I wasn't able to do that today."
In spite of the loss, Matsumoto was still upbeat.
"I'm really glad I got to compete against her. It's an honor for me."
Tani advanced to the semifinals, pulling Matsumoto through to the repechage where she fought 2007 Paris Super World Cup Champion Shugen Wu (CHN) in front of Wu's home crowd.
The two players were evenly matched until Wu threw Matsumoto for ippon in the final minute.
"I lost focus for just a quick second and she came in for a leg pick and mistakes like that can cost you the match and it did," Matsumoto said. "It's always disappointing when you lose. It doesn't matter who you lose to. Even if you lose to the best players in the world, it's still disappointing. I wasn't able to do what I wanted to out there, but I told myself when I came here I'd give it all I got and I did."
Today's competition was Matsumoto's first trip to the Olympic Games after serving as an alternate in 2000 and a training partner in 2004.
"It's been a great experience. I know it sounds cliché, but being an Olympian is a dream come true," Matsumoto said. "I'm really glad I fought the first day and I can enjoy the rest of the Games now. I can't really put it into words. I walked in Opening Ceremonies last night and it was just awesome."
Like Williams-Murray, Matsumoto also declined to speculate on her future in the sport.
"I can't commit to another four years right at this moment, but I'm definitely taking a break," she said. "I definitely need some time off. It's exhausting. It's really stressful - emotionally and on your body and financially. I'm 25 and I'm at the age where I could come back for another Games, but I can't make that commitment right now."