TOKYO - Japanese fans hailed three-time Olympic champion Tadahiro Nomura as a "wonderful judoka" on Tuesday as his retirement because of injuries prompted an emotional response.
Nomura, the first person to win three Olympic judo titles in a row, quit after his final match at the All-Japan Corporate Individual Championships on Saturday, saying he has reached his "physical limit" after repeated injuries.
The 40-year-old judoka, who was in the under-60 kilogram men's section, won gold medals in Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.
"I realised when the match was over that I was feeling nostalgic and sad," he told reporters in Osaka on Monday as he announced his retirement.
"I couldn't win my final match, but I'm glad I competed. I lost but so many people applauded and gave me warm words... I'm happy." Nomura said he continued competition after his triple medals owing to his "passion" and "deep feelings" about the sport.
But a string of injuries following a 2007 knee operation took their toll, he said.
Describing himself as a judoka "who doesn't know when to give up", Nomura said he became dependent on pain relief medications to numb the pain.
"I cried so hard watching his last match on TV. He was such a wonderful judoka," one fan said on Twitter.
Another said they would not forget the "thrilling sensation" of seeing Nomura's lightning-fast moves.
Nomura is known for winning matches by ippon - the equivalent to a knock-out in boxing - with his signature seoinage shoulder throw.