The 60kg division used to be boring to watch because so many of the players had resorted to leg-grabbing. Now that direct attack leg grabs are banned, the 60kg division has become arguably the most exciting weight class to watch because the fast and agile players are going for big throws.
The top players in this division are Rishod Sobirov (UZB), Hiroaki Hiraoka (JPN) and Geogii Zantaraia (UKR). Sobirov was in Pool A, Zantaria in Pool C and Hiraoka in Pool D. This meant that if Sobirov made it all the way to the final, he would likely meet Zantaraia or Hiraoka.
Sobirov, who had just been named Best Male Judoka Today by the IJF, cruised smoothly through the preliminary rounds defeating opponents from Switzerland, Burkina Faso, Brazil and Azerbaijan. The player he was likely to meet in the semi-finals was the new Japanese hopeful Hirofumi Yamamoto.
However, Yamamoto got caught with a well-timed kosoto-gari by Kim Won-Jin of South Korea, which sent the Japanese crashing to the ground. The force of the throw was so powerful, it knocked the wind out of Yamamoto, who had to lie down on the mat for some time before he could get up to bow out. Kim then defeated the tough Russian fighter Arsen Galtsyan to meet Sobirov in the semi-finals.
The Korean had obviously studied Sobirov’s moves, which is not surprising – as the No. 1 ranked player for the past year, he is probably the most watched player around. Kim managed to spin out of Sobirov’s usual throws, yoko-sutemi and sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi.
Towards the end of the match, Kim came in with a big uchimata which Sobirov attempted to counter but fell backwards instead. The referee gave Kim the ippon but it was overruled by the corner judges and was changed to waza-ari instead.
With very little time left, Sobirov went on a massive offensive and pressured the Korean into launching a desperate uchimata at the edge of the mat. Sobirov countered this for ippon, earning himself a place in the final.
On the other side, Zantaraia had no problems dispatching his first few opponents but lost to the other South Korean Choi Gwang-Hyeon by penalties. This meant it was likely to get Hiraoka that will be facing Sobirov. And so it was.
But it was not easy going for Hiraoka in his semi-final match against Choi, who had obviously studied Hiraoka’s favorite throws. A reverse seoi-nage and a couple of kouchi-makikomi attacks by the Japanese failed to produce any scores and the match went into Golden Score.
Perhaps aware that his regular attacks were effective against the Korean, Hiraoka switched to a regular kouchi-gari rather than his usual kouchi-makikomi and it worked like a charm. He scored ippon.
Bronze Medal Matches
The repercharge saw a grudge match between Zantaraia and Armenia’s Hovhannes Davtyan, who had strangled him unconscious in the Paris Grand Slam in February this year. This time around, Zantaraia prevailed, throwing the Armenian with a very low soto-makikomi for ippon. The Armenian clearly didn’t appreciate that, and in a display of poor sportsmanship, refused to shake Zantaraia’s hand after the match. Zantaraia made quick work of his match bronze medal match, throwing the Korean Kim with tsuri-goshi for ippon. The other bronze medal was won by Azerbaijan’s Ilgar Mushkiyev who defeated Korea’s Choi.
Gold Medal Match
The 60kg final was an exciting one, between World No. 1 Sobirov and World No. 3 Hiraoka. Both were big throwers, who seem to be able to launch attacks seemingly from any position, left and right.
Hiraoka has the distinction of being the last player to have beaten Sobirov, in the 2010 Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam. Since then, Sobirov has had nothing but consecutive victories. So, if any man could overcome him in the finals, it would be Hiraoka.
Although both players are known for non-stop, aggressive, attacking judo, they were quite careful in the opening minutes. Hiraoka was given a shido for passivity, which caused him to ramp things up a bit. He nearly scored with his trademark reverse seoi-nage but Sobirov landed on his front.
This prompted Sobirov to up the ante and he nearly scored with a lightning quick koshi-guruma. Hiraoka landed on his front. After that Sobirov threw caution to the wind and attacked Hiraoka with a big, hugging kosoto-gake attack – similar to the kind made famous by Zantaria. As Hiraoka fell over, he arched his back and conceded a waza-ari. But with only a few seconds left on the board, Hiraoka knew he had lost in the final yet again (he was the silver medallist at the 2009 Rotterdam World Championships).
A beaming Sobirov proved the IJF right in dubbing him “Best Male Judoka Today”. He is clearly the favorite going into the 2012 London Olympics.
SOBIROV, Rishod (UZB) vs. HIRAOKA, Hiroaki (JPN)
Bronze Medal fights
MUSHKIYEV, Ilgar (AZE) vs. CHOI, Gwang-Hyeon (KOR)
ZANTARAIA, Georgii (UKR) vs. KIM, Won Jin (KOR)
SOBIROV, Rishod (UZB) vs. KIM, Won Jin (KOR)
CHOI, Gwang-Hyeon (KOR) vs. HIRAOKA, Hiroaki (JPN)
MUSHKIYEV, Ilgar (AZE) vs. GALSTYAN, Arsen (RUS)
ZANTARAIA, Georgii (UKR) vs. DAVTYAN, Hovhannes (ARM)
1. SOBIROV, Rishod (UZB)
2. HIRAOKA, Hiroaki (JPN)
3. MUSHKIYEV, Ilgar (AZE)
3. ZANTARAIA, Georgii (UKR)
5. CHOI, Gwang-Hyeon (KOR)
5. KIM, Won Jin (KOR)
7. GALSTYAN, Arsen (RUS)
7. DAVTYAN, Hovhannes (ARM)