BY Jeff Wilkins and Christina Boyle
Rena Kanokogi displays judo gold medal she won in 1959 but only just received.
It took 50 years, but she finally got gold.
A Brooklyn judo champ stripped of her first place medal when judges realized she was a woman competing in a contest against men secured her place in the history books Friday.
It was a sweet moment for Rena (Rusty) Kanokogi, who became a pioneer for her sport - and a champion for equal rights - after her 1959 victory turned sour because she was the wrong gender.
"[The medal] should have never been taken away from me," the 74-year-old said.
"But we're righting a wrong, that's what counts."
Kanokogi is now frail, battling cancer, and walks with a cane. But she 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.
"It was a horrible feeling - like I did something wrong by being a woman."
The event changed Kanokogi's life.
She later mortgaged her home to fund the first female judo world championships in 1980 and almost single-handedly got women's judo into the 1988 Olympics after threatening to sue the International Olympic Committee.
The New York State YMCA presented Kanokogi with a gold medal Friday to honor her lifetime's work.
"She was like a mother to me," said 1983 Pan Am Games judo gold medalist Heidi Bauersachs-Trstensky, 55, who was trained by Kanokogi.
"She's the only one who pulled for us."
I found this article at Feministing, where Jessica makes the point that the issue might have been that Kanokogi beat the boys rather than that she was partaking in guys' sports. What do you think?