Getting to grips with life on the mat
The Olympic judo competition took place in the first week of the Games, with China and Japan the dominant forces, while wrestling will draw to a close over the next 24 hours
Basilica of MaxentiusuIn
Olympic history of the two sports wrestling is the senior partner, having been involved right from the start not only of the modern Olympics but the Ancient ones too. The Greco-Roman style survives to this day as recognition of the sport’s heritage and when the Games were held in Rome in 1960 the wrestling was staged in the Basilica of Maxentius, site of wrestling contests 2000 years before.
The early years in the modern era witnessed some marathon contests: in 1912 the light-heavyweight final was declared a draw after Anders Ahlgren of Sweden and Ivar Böhling of Finland grappled for nine hours. Success in both Greco-Roman and freestyle has been rare but in 1936 Estonia’s Kristjan Palusalu managed to win at heavyweight in both styles. In 1991 Palusalu was voted the greatest Estonian athlete in history.
Weight is a big issue in all forms of wrestling and in 1972 bronze medalist Chris Taylor of the United States, weighing in at 186.88kg (412 pounds) became the heaviest athlete in Olympic history. In 1996 Aleksandr Karelin of Russia became the first wrestler to win the same division three times with another victory in the Greco-Roman super-heavyweight category while at the same Games in the freestyle middleweight second round Elmadi Jabrailov of Kazakhstan beat his brother, Tucuman, representing Moldova.
While women’s wrestling was only included in the Olympic programme for the first time four years ago, women’s judo was established in 1992 in Barcelona. Four years later the unknown 16-year-old Kye Sun-hui, North Korea’s one wildcard entry to the whole 1996 Games, pulled off one of the shocks in Atlanta when she ended the four-year unbeaten run of Japan’s Ryoko Tamura in the extra-lightweight final. Kye had never heard of Tamura until she watched a couple of her matches on video prior to the final.
Family of judokas
The same Games saw Japan’s Tadahiro Nomura start his run at under-60kg to become the only judoka in the world to win three Olympic gold medals in a row. Nomura was born into a family of judokas - his grandfather was a local judo instructor, and his father was the coach of Shinji Hosokawa, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. Nomura’s uncle, Toyokazu Nomura, was also a gold medalist at the 1972 Olympics in the 70kg division.
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