August 28, 2009

The Medal She Should Have Won in 1959

The New York Daily News has an interesting profile of a Brooklyn woman who was stripped of her first place medal in judo after judges realized she was a woman competing against men. (And beating them - which I suspect was the real issue.)

[Kanokogi] vividly recalls the moment she took on her opponent in the New York State YMCA judo championships.

She was an alternate, and had to step in when a male team member was injured.

Although women were not explicity barred from the YMCA contests, no female had ever tried to take part. Because her hair was as short as a boy's and she had an athletic build and tape around her breasts, Kanokogi's gender wasn't questioned until she won her fight - and her team won the contest.

She was pulled aside and forced to admit she was a woman or else her teammates would have been stripped of the title.

"It was very demeaning, painful," she said.

Now, fifty years later, the medal that was taken from her in 1959 has been restored. The New York State YMCA gave her the medal last week to make amends, and to honor a lifetime of work on behalf of women and sports: After losing the medal Kanokogi went on to fund the first female judo world championships and worked to get women's judo into the 1988 Olympics.

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