The International Judo Federation (IJF) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Women's World Championships.
While judo's World Championships date back to 1956 - and the sport was first included on the Olympic programme at Tokyo 1964 - these events were only open to men.
It was not until 1980 that the first Women’s World Championships were held, with New York City acting as host.
The Women’s World Championships were only possible thanks to the drive and dedication of a woman called Rena Kanokogi (nee Glickman), nicknamed Rusty.
Kanokogi was born in New York and developed an early love of martial arts, particularly judo.
In 1959 Kanokogi disguised her gender to compete in her home country, winning a medal, which was subsequently taken away from her when her true identity was revealed.
Spurred on by what seemed an injustice Kanokogi embarked on a mission to get women’s judo featured at the Olympics.
She organised junior and women’s events in New York and won a case against the Amateur Athletic Union in 1971 when they introduced regulations for women’s competitions restricting the intensity of bodily contact.
Inspired by Kanokogi’s example, continental championships for women took place around the world in the 1970s.
In 1980, Kanokogi took the next step and organised a first Women’s World Championship, sponsoring it through the mortgage on her own home.
The event ran from November 29 to 30 at the iconic Madison Square Garden, and saw medals awarded across eight different classes.
The tournament was a landmark event for women's judo, and an important stepping stone on the path to gender equality in the sport.
Many participants claim their successes at that inaugural World Championships were pivotal to shaping their careers.
Jocelyne Triadou, the first Frenchwoman to become a world champion said following her victory her national federation had “no other choice” but to accept her, and said that looking back, she enjoyed being part of “the adventure.”
Italy’s Laura Di Toma, who won silver in the -61kg category, said her result helped the country believe in women’s judo. Di Toma recalled how her and her teammates “wanted our sacrifices to be balanced with those of everyone else and to be recognised in the world without prejudice.”
Britain’s Jane Bridge, who won gold in the -48kg category recalled that “thanks to the organisation and our performances, we put women's judo on the world map.
“From then on there was no going back possible because even if some did not like it, we had become visible.”
Frenchwoman Marie-Paule Panza, who won a silver medal at the Championships reflects that “it was a beautiful period, one which built me.”
British judoka Loretta Cusack-Doyle, who won bronze at the age of 17 recalled that she “felt fortunate to be there at all” and was pleased that she was able to “complete the contest with my respect intact.”
Even those who did not come away with a medal acknowledged how the Championships were a landmark occasion for them – Sonia Carabajo of Ecuador lost her first fight in the -48kg category but said it was “an honour to be there and participate.”
Rosa González Feilberg of Argentina, who competed in the -52kg category said “judo gave us security and humility.”
Three more editions of the Women's World Championships followed, before the 1987 World Judo Championships in West German city Essen were the first to feature both men's and women's contests.
Women's judo was a demonstration event at the Seoul 1988 Olympics, and has been on the medal programme at every edition of the Summer Games since.
Kanokogi sadly passed away in 2009 but her legacy lives on and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Women's World Championships later this month, and pay tribute to the pioneers who made it possible, the IJF is to hold an online celebration.
Rena Kanokogi’s daughter Jean paid tribute to her mum by saying: “She has touched and changed the lives of thousands of women around the world and more generally of everyone she has met.
“It's amazing when I see the testimonials coming from all over the world. It's positive and it's so helpful as the world has been hit by COVID-19. I'm really proud of her and of us, we can all be."