Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 2: 2013 Rio World Championships -66kg

Men’s -66kg
The men’s -66kg division was probably the most hotly contested of all weight classes in the 2013 World Championships with the participation of many exciting players including two former -60kg World Champions Georgii Zantaraia of the Ukraine and Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan who had both decided to move up a weight.

Also in the running were top contenders like World Champion Masashi Ebinuma of Japan, Olympic Champion Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia, and first and second seeds Tumurkhuleg Davaadorj of Mongolia and David Larose of France, respectively.

Pool A (Georgii Zantaraia – UKR)
Because he had just moved up a weight, Georgii Zantaraia was not highly ranked (26th) and was drawn against Davaadorj in the first round. It was a match worthy of a final but it also meant one of the two top players in the competition would be eliminated in the first round. Both men fought conservatively and mid-way through the match, the penalties were even at two shidos each. Then, the Mongolian made a mistake and carelessly stepped outside causing him to get his third shido. Zantaraia opted to ride the time out, attacking just enough to avoid getting his third shido. With just 10 seconds left on the clock, Davaadorj threw caution to the wind and rushed forward allowing Zantaraia to launch him with a hip throw for waza-ari.

Zantaraia has just moved up a weight but he can still do the big throws.

On paper, Zantaraia’s second fight, against Algeria’s Ahmed Mohammedi (ranked 49th) would have been a cakewalk compared to his previous match. But the Algerian nearly threw him with a well-timed kosoto-gari that had Zantaraia flying in the air. Then, with less than a minute to go the Algerian very nearly upset Zantaraia when he threw him with a harai-goshi that was initially awarded a waza-ari before it was cancelled. Video playback showed that it was in fact an overthrow. In the end, Zantaraia won the match on penalties.

Zantaraia nearly got upset in this match. He was lucky the harai-goshi was an overthrow.

Zantaraia also had a difficult time in his third match, against the unseeded Venezuelan Sergio Mattey (ranked 81st) who shocked the Ukrainian when he scored a yuko through a kosoto counter midway through the contest. That surprise score jolted Zantaraia out of his complacency and he proceeded to smash Mattey with an ura-nage counter for ippon.

His opponent scored first but Zantaraia settled the match with a massive ippon.

The Ukrainian’s fourth and final preliminary round match would prove to be his hardest. He was up against the tough Azerbaijani player Nijat Shikhalizada (ranked 10th). Zantaraia scored first when he countered a kosoto-gari to score waza-ari. Next, Shikhalizada used a hand technique to whirl Zantaraia over for a yuko. The match looked quite evenly fought with both players looking like they could pull out a big score at any moment. Then, with less than a minute to go, Zantaraia settled matters by throwing his opponent with a massive uchimata for ippon.

A beautiful uchimata for ippon by Zantaraia.
Pool B (Azamat Mukanov - KAZ)
As tough as Pool A seemed to be, Pool B was even harder with fifth-ranked South Korean Cho Jun-Ho, Olympic Champion Shavdatuashvili and double World Champion Sobirov all vying for the top spot. In the end, it was unseeded Azamat Mukanov of Kazakhstan who came up top.
Mukanov won his first fight after armlocking his Russian opponent Alim Gadanov tried a clumsy tomoe-nage. He easily defeated his next opponent, Singapore’s Joel Tseng, by throwing him with tomoe-nage for waza-ari, then sode-tsuri-komi-goshi for yuko, and finally by an armlock for ippon, all within the first minute.

His third fight should have been a hard one as he was up against Britain’s Colin Oates, who was having the day of his life, impressively beating Sobirov and Shavdatuashvili in earlier rounds. As it turned out, Mukanov was having an even better day, as he managed to whirl Oates over with a slick sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi for ippon within 20 seconds. That brought him up against Masaaki Fukuoka, Japan’s alternate in that division (the ranking Japanese player was Masashi Ebinuma who was in Pool C). Mukanov had lost to Fukuoka in the Asian Championships in Bangkok earlier in the year but this time around, he would prevail with another well-timed sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi. It was initially given a waza-ari but then revised to ippon. With that, the 30th-ranked Mukanov emerged as the surprise victor of Pool B.

Kazakhstan's Mukanov displays excellent ashiwaza skills in his preliminary matches.

Pool C (Masashi Ebinuma - JPN)
Although Pool C had France’s Larose and Mongolia’s Miyaragchaa Sanjaasuren, Japan’s Ebinuma was far and away the lead favourite. He lit up the scoreboard in his first match, against Portugal’s Sergiu Oleinic by throwing him for a yuko and a waza-ari before finishing him off with a rolling morote-seoi-nage for ippon. His second match, against Venezuela’s Ricardo Valderamma was also won with a morote-seoi-nage for ippon.

Ebinuma’s third opponent, Pawel Zadgronik, was determined not to be scored upon but racked up three shidos in the process. Not content to win by penalties, Ebinuma threw Zadgronik with a driving ouchi-gari that scored ippon. His fourth match of the day was against Spain’s Sugoi Uriarte, whom he destroyed with a reverse-seoi-nage for waza-ari followed by a running uchimata for ippon. Ebinuma’s performance was definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Japan's Ebinuma thrilled the crowd with his throwing power.

Pool D (Charles Chibana - BRA)
The top contender in Pool D was Kazakhtan’s lead player Sergei Lim who was ranked 3rd (Mukanov was actually the alternate). However, he was eliminated in his first fight. The player who emerged top of this pool was Brazil’s Charles Chibana who was on a roll after winning the Moscow Grand Slam in July.

Chibana’s first fight was against Ecuador’s Verdugo Israel, whom he defeated with a low morote-seoi-nage for ippon. That brought him up against Canada’s Patrick Gagne, whom he footswept for a waza-ari before countering with an ura-nage for ippon. Next up was Israel’s Tal Flicker whom he strangled for ippon. He impressed the crowd with his quick win against Russia’s Mikhail Pulyaev whom he threw with a deftly-executed hip-thrown into ura-nage combination that scored ippon. 

Home favourite, Chibana, rose to the occasion and made it to the semi-finals.

On paper, Zantaraia had the edge in his semi-final match against Mukanov. He was a former world champion and had far more experience in international competitions although he had just come up from a lighter weight. Mukanov proved to be the better player on that day though, nearly armlocking Zantaraia before executing a well-time uchimata-sukashi that scored waza-ari. It was enough to win him the match.

Little-known Mukanov destroys Zantaraia.

Chibana had fought extremely well in the preliminary rounds and was on equally good form in his semi-final bout against Ebinuma. In fact, with the Japanese player down by a shido and only 20 seconds to go, Chibana seemed to be on his way to victory when Ebinuma attacked with a do-or-die kosoto-gari that scored waza-ari, followed by a pin for waza-ari-awasatte-ippon. It was a spectacular win.

Ebinuma showed his class by snatching victory in the final moments of the match.

The crowd was in a frenzy during the first bronze medal match when it seemed like home favourite Chibana had scored an ippon against Fukuoka. Chibana had attacked with a sode-tsuri-komi-goshi which had the Japanese player falling backwards in defence. Although Fukuoka fell squarely on his back it was a soft fall and after video playback, it was decided that it merited a waza-ari. With his new lease of life Fukuoka wasted no time in attacking Chibana, first with an osoto-gari for waza-ari, followed by another osoto-gari which scored ippon. 

Chibana thought he had won but Fukuoka got a new lease of life and promptly demolished the Brazilian.
The other bronze medal match saw Mikhail Pulyaev go up against Zantaraia, who had done extremely well so far given that this was a new weight class for him. With one minute left to go, it was the Russian who was ahead after nearly scoring with a seoi-nage that had Zantaraia flying through the air. Pulyaev was also leading with one shido against two when out of the blue Zantaraia launched into an uchimata that whirled the Russian over for ippon.

Zantaraia uses uchimata to good effect in his bronze medal match against Pulyaev.

The final of the -66kg division was the stuff of drama where heroes are born. Firstly it featured an underdog in the form of Mukanov, who was previously unknown to most judo watchers. He was unseeded and had not won any major international competitions. But it was the way the match ended that had the whole stadium cheering wildly.

Although he was going up against a world champion, Mukanov showed no fear and nearly scored with a counter against Ebinuma’s ouchi-gari attack. Then at the midway mark, he attacked Ebinuma with what looked like a waki-gatame throw. Ebinuma managed to slip out seemingly uninjured although he was seen nursing his left arm when the referee called matte.

Mukanov followed up with the exact same technique. This time, he had Ebinuma’s right arm trapped. Ebinuma could be seen squirming in pain but he refused to submit. By the time the referee called them to stand up, Ebinuma was clearly injured. The match continued however and after a few moments of grip fighting, Mukanov struck a third time with the same attack. Ebinuma managed to stay standing but was clearly in agony.

When the referee signalled for the match to continue, Ebinuma wasted no time in grabbing hold of Mukanov’s right lapel with his injured left arm and drove him backwards with an ouchi-gari that scored ippon. That had the crowd roaring in approval. If there’s anything a crowd loves more than an underdog it’s an injured player with the will to win. Ebinuma had executed the throw of the tournament and won Japan its second gold medal.

Mukanov attacks Ebinuma with waki-gatame, not once or twice but three times! It's a miracle Ebinuma survived.

Final Results

1. EBINUMA, Masashi (JPN)     
2. MUKANOV, Azamat (KAZ) 
3. FUKUOKA, Masaaki (JPN)
3. ZANTARAIA, Georgii (UKR)
5. CHIBANA, Charles (BRA)     
5. PULYAEV, Mikhail (RUS)

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