One of my favourite parts about the Olympics is having the chance to witness sports I would never otherwise care to see. These sports have thousands of people who live and breathe them, yet the only time they get decent coverage (or any, let’s say) is during the Olympics.
Judo is one of these such sports. Though it originated in Japan, the sport is quite big in the Netherlands, as well as Mongolia, Korea and France. Introduced in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese were pretty confident that it was a sure-fire way to collect a whole swag of medals quite easily at their home Games. They didn’t count on a Dutchman collecting the heavyweight title and denying the Japanese a clean sweep of the medals.
I had no idea about judo at the Olympics when we headed into ExCel Arena. The venue, nestled in London’s Docklands, is pretty impressive, being home not just to judo but also table tennis, weightlifting, fencing and boxing as well. Here we got our first taste of the Brits’ organisation skills; we entered from one DLR station and were made to exit from another, keeping the pedestrian traffic flowing in the one direction. It worked seemlessly and every few metres there was another volunteer to steer you the right way.
I don’t remember ever being at a sport, except for maybe the athletics, when more than one sport was taking place simultaneously. At the judo two bouts took place at the same time, which took some getting used to. Without fail, I would always seem to be looking at one when an ‘ippon’ would occur at the other.
Achieving an ‘ippon’ (literally meaning ‘one point’ in Japanese) is the aim of the game in judo. From my understanding, it’s when you are able to flip an opponent onto their back, with their shoulders touching the floor. Sustained headlocks can also achieve ’ippon’. You can also get half and quarter marks for performing lesser moves, but the show’s over when someone gets to a full point. It’s all over after five minutes (four minutes for women for some reason, thanks IOC) and if someone hasn’t achieved ‘ippon’, the one with the higher number of points wins. If it’s a tie, extra time is given and the one who scores first is the winner. If they’re still locked together after that, it’s up to the judge to decide who looked better.
I didn’t have high expectations for judo. It doesn’t get shown on Aussie television much as we seem to always be locked in a swimming-athletics-cycling rhythm, so I just assumed it was your typical martial art. It was actually quite exciting. The audience was packed, unlike most sessions at the Games, so the atmosphere was fantastic. Helpful screens taught newbies like myself the basic rules, and kids in their judo gear cheered for Team GB. Paul knew the rules pretty well, and we were seated behind an older man who knew all of the participants. The first bout saw the world champion defeated, something we wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for our helpful neighbour.
As we left the arena after the semi finalists were decided, and we were kind of up for more. But alas, we didn’t have tickets for the afternoon session, we had the hockey calling our names!