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One year ago: Rena 'Rusty' Kanokogi

November 21, 2010 |  6:00 am

KanokogiRena "Rusty" Kanokogi had to pose as a man to compete in a sport she loved. By her perseverance, however, she successfully got women's judo into the Olympics and became the coach of the U.S. team. Kanokogi died one year ago at age 74.

Brooklyn-born Kanokogi learned judo from someone in her neighborhood, but her attempts to compete in the city's judo clubs were met with resistance. Although she won the 1959 New York State YMCA judo championships, she was forced to hand over her medal when she revealed her gender.

She persevered, however, and traveled to Japan where she became the first woman at the main dojo with men. She later returned to the United States and slowly drummed up support for women in the sport.

"It was everything piece by piece," she said of organizing the 1980 world championships in New York. "I didn't care if I slept or ate. It was do or die."

Men's judo became an Olympic sport in the 1964 Games, and Kanokogi threatened legal action if women's judo was not treated equally.

Her efforts were rewarded when women's judo joined the Olympics in 1988 with Kanokogi as U.S. coach. And last year, the Brooklyn YMCA awarded her the gold medal she was forced to give up in 1959.

Kanokogi in 2008 received the Emperor's Award of the Rising Sun, bestowed on foreigners who have had a positive influence on Japanese society.

For more on the woman who fought for women's judo, read Rena Kanokogi's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Rena Kanokogi displays the gold medal for the 1959 New York State YMCA Judo Championships that was stripped from her when it was discovered she was a woman competing against men. It was returned in 2009. Credit: Associated Press