No 33: Tong Wen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2008, 12:00am

Name: Tong Wen

Date of birth: February 1, 1983 in Tianjin

Career highlights: Winner, women's +78kg class at 2003, 2005 and 2007 world championships

Main rival: Tsukada Maki (Japan)

The 2004 Athens Olympics sticks in Tong Wen's memory for all the wrong reasons. The then-21-year-old judoka sat helplessly in front of the television watching her teammate, Sun Fuming, lose a semi-final bout that she could easily have won, and then had to endure the sight of arch-rivals Japan wresting away China's 78kg-and-over crown.

The crippling knee injury she suffered in late 2003 that forced her out of the Games didn't help, but Tong's main source of pain was seeing Tsukada Maki, who she had beaten both times they had met on the mat, win gold.

'If I had been there, the gold medal would have definitely ended up in Chinese hands,' Tong said.

Since judo was introduced as a competitive sport at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, China have dominated. While Japan, where the sport originated, have stood tall in most women's categories - they won five out of seven titles in Athens - the heavyweight division has been China's domain. First was Zhuang Xiaoyan, then Sun and Yuan Hua. Until the injury, Tong had been odds-on favourite to extend the streak.

At the core of this stranglehold is China's training system, in which elite male judokas face off against the women in training. The mechanism works particularly well in the women's heavyweight division, where power and size rule.

'It's the advantage of our national sports system,' said Cui Dalin, the deputy Chinese sports minister. 'The centralised structure here means we can pool together resources in a convenient way and provide the best help for our medal hopefuls.'

Tong, who weighs more than 120kg, is the biggest and best judoka to come off the production line. She has beaten Maki three times in a row since Athens, including in the 2007 world championship final in Rio de Janeiro. This domination has led the Japanese media to dub Tong 'China's insurmountable Great Wall'.

The bad news for Maki is the Athens 2004 nightmare has made Tong an even tougher obstacle to overcome.

'It serves as an extra motivation in my bid for victory in Beijing,' said Tong. 'I missed the chance once but I will definitely make amends this time around.'