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London Olympics Recap: Japan Finishes with Its Best-Ever Medal Count

Yahoo Contributor Network

Japan's Olympic team put together a solid overall performance at the London Games by winning a total of 38 medals-which represents the highest number of podium finishes for the country at one Olympics.

The medal haul in 2012 surpassed the previous best of 37 from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and was a significant improvement over the 25 medals earned four years ago at the Beijing Games.

However, the enthusiasm generated by the medal tally in London has been tempered somewhat by the realization that only seven of the 37 medals were gold.

By comparison, 16 of the medal-podium finishes in Athens were gold-matching Japan's best-ever total in that category from 1964-and Japan's competitors in Beijing captured nine golds.

Still, the people of Japan and fans of Japan's Olympians elsewhere should applaud the efforts of the country's athletes at the London Games.

GOLD MEDALISTS

Kaori Icho: Icho further validated her status as one of the greatest women's Freestyle wrestlers by winning her third straight Olympic gold in London. Also, in seven appearances at the World Championships, Icho has never returned home to Japan with anything less than gold. At 28 years of age, she is a solid bet to try for a fourth consecutive Olympic title in 2016.

Kaori Matsumoto: Matsumoto helped Japan save face in the judo competition by taking the gold in the under-57 kilogram class. Matsumoto's title was the only one a Japanese judoka earned in London-a big shock to the country that gave the world the sport of judo.

Ryota Murata: Murata won the men's Middleweight boxing gold. In doing so, he became the first Japanese man to achieve the feat in Olympic boxing since 1964.

Hitomi Obara: Obara was awarded the gold in the under-48 kilogram class in women's Freestyle wrestling after dominating her opponents throughout the day of competition. Obara, the holder of eight World Championships titles, did not compete at previous Olympics because she used to wrestle at 51 kilograms-a weight not contested at the Summer Games.

Kohei Uchimura: The 23-year-old Uchimura is generally recognized as the most talented men's gymnast in the world. He won the All-Around title in London, and has another four Olympic podium finishes to his credit-all silver-from 2008 and 2012.

Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu: Yonemitsu won gold by emerging victorious in the men's 66-kilogram class in Freestyle wrestling.

Saori Yoshida: Easily the best women's Freestyle wrestler over the past decade, Yoshida joined teammate Kaori Icho in London as the first three-time Olympic gold medalists in the sport. Yoshida's combined total of 12 Olympic and World titles is identical to the number won by Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Aleksandr Karelin during his legendary career.

OTHER NOTABLE MEDALISTS

Koji Murofushi: Japan's "Iron Man," Murofushi is the most accomplished performer for Japan in the history of Olympic field events. He won the bronze in the hammer throw in London, to go with his gold from the Athens Games eight years ago. The 37-year-old Murofushi is the beneficiary of great bloodlines, as his father was Japan's best in the hammer throw a few decades ago, and his mother was a world-class javelin thrower for Romania.

Kosuke Hagino: A teenage swimming sensation for Japan, Hagino took the bronze in the men's 400-meter individual medley. His third-place finish in London is also noteworthy since it kept American great Michael Phelps from a podium finish in the race. At just 17 years of age, Hagino will look to be Japan's next swimming star, replacing the aging Kosuke Kitajima, who failed to earn an individual medal at the London Games.

Japan Women's Soccer Team: The women's soccer team is known popularly as Nadeshiko Japan, from the Japanese word "nadeshiko," meaning beautiful flower, and another Japanese term, "yamato nadeshiko," which incorporates age-old ideas of feminine grace and virtue. They are admired worldwide for their skill, perseverance, and sportsmanship on the football pitch.

The women's soccer team is also the pride of Japan for their 2011 World Cup title and for winning the silver medal at the London Games, falling only in the gold-medal final to a superior U.S. team. The U.S.-Japan women's soccer rivalry should be one of the best in international sports for years to come.

Patrick Hattman covered the London Games for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He lived in Japan for more than a decade and continues to closely follow the country's best athletes and team sports.

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