Summer Olympics History: Japan's Greatest Olympians

Top Ten Men and Women from a Century of Competition

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Japan at the Summer Olympics

Japan sent its athletes to the Summer Olympics for the first time in 1912. After winning just eight medals combined from 1912-1928, Japan's Olympians were much stronger in 1932 and 1936-taking home 18 medals each time.

After World War II, the country made its return to Olympic competition in 1952. Japan's medal tallies have been inconsistent to the present, with its best gold-medal hauls of 16 occurring in 1964 and 2004, and its top overall medal count of 38 at the recently concluded London Games.

The following list includes brief information on the ten men and women that I regard as Japan's greatest in Summer Olympics history:

Kaori Icho: One of the top performers all time in women's Freestyle wrestling, Icho has won three straight Olympic golds, and might return to compete for a fourth one in 2016.

Sawao Kato: Kato was one of the leaders of Japan's men's gymnastics dynasty in the 1960s and '70s. He earned a total of 12 medals-eight of them gold-and was a two-time All-around champion.

Kosuke Kitajima: Arguably the best men's breaststroke swimmer in Olympic history, Kitajima won both the 100 and 200-meter breaststrokes in 2004 and 2008.

Yoshinobu Miyake: One of the world's greatest weightlifters in the 1960s, Miyake started off the decade with a silver at the Summer Games in Rome, and improved upon that finish with golds in 1964 and 1968.

Akinori Nakayama: Another of Japan's star gymnasts of the 1960s and '70s, Nakayama took home 10 Olympic medals in all-six of them gold-with four of his golds in individual events.

Tadahiro Nomura: Perhaps Japan's best-ever judoka in Olympic competition, Nomura won three consecutive judo golds between 1996-2004.

Ryoko Tani: In an Olympic career spanning 1992-2008, the diminutive Tani(nee Tamura) fought her way to five podium finishes, with golds in 2000 and 2004.

Yoshiyuki Tsuruta: One of Japan's many great men's swimmers from the late 1920s through the '30s, Tsuruta dominated the only breaststroke race at the 1928 and 1932 Olympics-the 200 meters-and won gold both times.

Kohei Uchimura: Japan's newest star in men's gymnastics, Uchimura has tallied five Olympic medals thus far, with his top achievement being gold in the All-around in 2012.

Saori Yoshida: In an unparalleled career in women's Freestyle wrestling, Yoshida has captured an amazing ten World Championships golds and three straight Olympic titles from 2004-2012.

Related content: London Olympics Recap: Japan Finishes With Its Best-Ever Medal Count

Patrick Hattman covered the London Games for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He is already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

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