Sunday, August 14, 2016

-66kg Overview

The men's -66kg division promised to be a really exciting one with many top players competing, namely An Baul (KOR), Rishod Sobirov (UZB), Georgii Zantaraia (UKR), Masashi Ebinuma (JPN), Tumurkhuleg Davaadorj (MGL), Nijat Shikhalizada (AZE) and Mikhail Puliaev (RUS). Pools A and B went largely according to expectations but there was complete turmoil in Pools C and D as many lesser-known players upset the favorites.

Pool A: An (KOR)

South Korea's reigning World Champion An had a tough draw, with players from Kazakhstan, France and Uzebekistan in his way to the semi-final. But in the end, he managed to get past them rather handily. In his first match, against the unorthodox Zhansay Smagulov (KAZ), he scored waza-ari with a very low drop morote-seoi-nage and then ended the match with an armlock for ippon. It was a good first win. Next, he dispatched Kilian Le Blouch (FRA), firstly with a cross grip drop seoi-nage for waza-ari and then a double sleeve drop sode-tsuri-komi-goshi for ippon. He has a slightly harder time against former double World Champion Sobirov but his cross grip seoi-nage caught the Uzbek player by surprise for a waza-ari score. Although Sobirov is known for making last minute comebacks, he wasn't able to do it this time.

Pool B
Crowd-favorite, former World Champion Zantaraia, was shockingly knocked out in the first round by Sergiu Oleinic (POR), who threw him with a very low drop ippon-seoi-nage  for yuko. The Portuguese player then ran out the clock and with that, Zantaraia's Olympic quest was over.

Oleinic's match against Wander Mateo (DOM) was to be but a formality but this was the Olympics where big upsets can and do happen. Against all odds, the Dominican player lasted until Golden score. When Oleinic tried to catch him with a drop seoi-nage, Mateo had the presence of mind to counter... and for ippon, no less!

Japan's triple World Champion Ebinuma, who was also in that pool, threw home favorite Charles Chibana (BRA) with a reaching osoto-gari. The Brazilian tried to spin out but landed on his side, so a yuko score was given. Ebinuma then proceeded to pin Chibana for an ippon. Next, Ebinuma gave Ma Duanbin (CHN) a judo lesson, throwing with sumi-gaeshi for yuko, pinning for waza-ari and then throwing him again, this time with drop sode-tsuri-komi-goshi, for ippon. It was a masterful performance.

Although Mateo had done well to get to the quarter-finals, Ebinuma was a bridge too far. The Japanese champion first threw him with a drop morote-seoi-nage for waza-ari, then a drop sode-tsurikomi-goshi for yuko, and finally a drop morote-seoi-nage for ippon. Ebinuma looked to be in top form.

Pool C
Mongolia's Davaadorj was the favorite here but in the quarter-final he came up against Fabio Basile (ITA), a relative unknown who was having the day of his life. The young Italian had earlier beaten tough opponents like Sebastian Seidl (GER), whom he had thrown with a drop sode-tsurikomi-goshi, and Azerbaijan's Shikhalizada, whom he had demolished with a side takedown and a foot-sweep for a waza-ari-awasatte-ippon. With that, he was through to the semi-finals. It was a surprise to everyone.

Pool D
Another huge upset was in the cards when Russia's Puliaev went up against Antoine Bouchard (CAN), who fought a highly tactical match that went into Golden Score. While there, Bouchard wasted no time clamping his grip on Puliaev's back and spinning him over to his side with sumi-gaeshi for yuko... and the win.

Bouchard would then meet Adrian Gomboc (SLO) in the quarter-final. The Slovenian had done remarkably well earlier, defeating Vazha Margelahsvili (GEO) with a drop sode-tsurikomi-goshi. He also had to beat Mathews Punza (ZAM) who had earlier shocked the stadium when he pinned Golan Pollock (ISR) for ippon. Punza didn't have it within him to create a second upset though and Gomboc was through.

In their quarter-final match, Gomboc countered Bouchard's clumsy uchimata for a waza-ari score early in the bout. Not content to coast on that lead, he went on to throw Bouchard with a rolling drop-seoi-nage for ippon.

Dominican Republic's Mateo fought the good fight against Uzbekistan's Sobirov and was actually ahead on penalties when the Uzbekh champion launched him with a huge uchimata for ippon.

In the second repercharge, Mongolia's Davaadorj was the aggressor while Canada's Bouchard fought a strategic game. In the last minute, Bouchard countered Davaadorj for waza-ari. It was yet another huge upset in a day already beset with many unexpected outcomes.

The An-Ebinuma semi-final match could easily have been the final. Excitement was in the air as these two top dogs stepped onto the mat. An got a shido first. Then Ebinuma got a shido as well. The match was pretty evenly fought until the end of regular time. In Golden Score, Ebinuma attempted a drop seoi-nage which An was able to counter for yuko.

Basile meanwhile had to rely on penalties for his semi-final win against Gomboc, but it was far from being a boring, tactical match. Both players made real attempts to throw the other and crowd showed its appreciation by roaring loudly each time an attack was made. 

Always calm, cool and collected, Sobirov won his bronze with a counter for waza-ari and then a strangle for ippon against Gomboc.

Ebinuma meanwhile, started his match against Bouchard cautiously, incurring a shido before ramping things up. Once he got started though, the attacks came in a flurry. A very low drop seoi-nage earned him a yuko. Not content to win with such a low score, Ebinuma followed that up with another drop seoi-nage. This time, it scored ippon.

With Ebinuma out of the way, An looked all set to claim the -66kg crown except things didn't go according to script. Basile scored the upset of the tournament by throwing An with a drop seoi-otoshi that landed the South Korean flat on his back. The crowd roared its approval as ippon was called. 

“Sincerely, I don't realise what's going on. Because in real life, I'm going to realise in a few hours that my life has always been judo."

Final Results
1. BASILE, Fabio (ITA)
2. AN, Baul (KOR)
3. SOBIROV, Rishod (UZB) 
3. EBINUMA, Masashi (JPN)
5. GOMBOC, Adrian (SLO)  
5. BOUCHARD, Antoine (CAN) 
7. MATEO, Wander (DOM)
7. DAVAADORJ, Tumurkhuleg (MGL)

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