By Daniel Etchells

Hitoshi Saito proudly wears his gold medal after triumphing in the men's judo over 95 kilogram category at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games ©Getty ImagesJapan's two-time Olympic judo champion Hitoshi Saito has died at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer, with the country's International Olympic Committee member Tsunekazu Takeda among those paying tribute.

Saito, who won back-to-back gold medals in the men's over 95 kilogram category at the Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, also served as Japan's national team coach for the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where the country topped the judo medals table on both occasions.

Compatriot Yasuhiro Yamashita was a long-time rival of Saito's during his fighting career, with the pair facing each other in three consecutive national championship finals from 1983 to 1985.

Although Saito lost out in all three encounters, he went onto claim the title in 1988 to add to his two Olympic golds and success at the 1983 Moscow World Judo Championships. 

"He was my lifetime rival," said Yamashita, who is currently vice-president of the All Japan Judo Federation.

"It is very unfortunate to hear this."

Yasuhiro Yamashita (left) was a long-time rival of Hitoshi Saito ©Getty ImagesYasuhiro Yamashita (left) was a long-time rival of Hitoshi Saito ©Getty Images

A tumour was discovered in Saito's gallbladder in 2013 after he had become head of the All Japan Judo Federation's (AJJF) Committee for Enhancement the year previous.

Reports suggest his condition deteriorated at the end of last year.

"It is all very sudden, so I don't know what to say," said IOC member Takeda, also President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, as reported by the Japan Times

"As a player and coach he really gave it his all, and we had expectations for him so it is unfortunate.

"I had the impression he was a serious and conscientious person."

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