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Olympic Poseur: Judo

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During these Olympics, Poseur will spend each day watching and reviewing one sport. He also promises to stop referring to himself in the third person.

Today's Sport: Judo

Yeah, I don't know the first thing about judo other than it is a martial art. I also saw that it's not on the TV listings for the day, so it was off to the internet to watch the games online. Unlike swimming, which had pleasant Australian commentary, there are absolutely no announcers of any kind on the judo feed, so I was pretty much left to my own devices to figure the sport out.

Now, I'm a fairly intuitive guy and I watch a lot of sports, and I can usually figure out the basic gist of an event just from paying attention. But as soon as I saw a scoreline that read 0 1 0// 0 0 2 with a yellow light by one score, I figured I was gonna have to do a little more research. Luckily, NBC's website has a helpful guide, and I quote:

Ending a Match

The following are the ways a match could end before time expires:

1. Scoring an "ippon" (equivalent to a knockout in boxing or a pin in wrestling) by

(a) Throwing an opponent to his back with force, speed and control.

(b) Immobilizing an opponent with a hold-down (grappling) technique for 25 seconds. The
opponent must be mostly on his back (not necessarily with the shoulders touching) and no part of the holder must be under the control of the person being held (i.e. no entangled
legs). When the hold-down is started, the referee announces "osaekomi" and the clock is started to time the duration of the hold.

(c) Choking an opponent until he submits (gives up) or passes out. Pressure is applied to the sides of the neck, windpipe or larynx. A properly applied choking technique can cause the opponent to pass out. If a player becomes unconscious, only a doctor or a trainer is permitted to administer "katsu" - the Japanese word for resuscitation.

(d) Applying an arm-lock to an opponent's elbow joint until he submits (gives up) or the arm becomes dislocated.

Note: Giving up is known as "tapping out" - the surrendering judoka taps their arm, mat, self, or opponent repeatedly to ask him to release the technique. The surrendering judoka can also say "maitta" (I give up).

2. Scoring two "waza-aris," or almost-ippons. The waza-ari score is given for a technique that is not effective enough to be scored as an ippon and counts as half a point. Thus two of them add up to one point - the equivalent of an ippon, announced "waza-ari-awasete-ippon" in Japanese.
The waza-aris can be scored by two throws, two hold-downs, or one of each.

3. A penalty of "hansoku-make," which is an immediate disqualification because of a grave rule violation or a series of 4 shidos (slight infringements).

4. A "combination win" (sogogachi) because a waza-ari was scored after a third shido penalty was given to the opponent, or the reverse order.

5. A withdrawal due to injury results in "kikengachi," a win by injury or by default.

Determining a Winner

If the match goes the distance, it is decided on the basis of which judoka has accumulated the highest quality score or the fewest penalties. In judo, it is always the highest quality score that wins. Thus, one waza-ari will beat 10 yukos.

If the point totals are the same, a winner is decided by "golden score," which is essentially sudden death overtime. The clocks are reset for three minutes and the first person to score is the winner. A player can also win if the opponent is given a penalty that results in a score. If the overtime goes the full three minutes, a majority decision by the three referees will decide the winner.

Um.... yeah. We're clear, right? Basically, each competitor tries to grab the other guy and throw him to the ground, scoring a half point or a quarter point or... screw it. Throw the other guy to the ground and then immobilize him. Then hope for the best.

I chose the men's 66kg and women's 52kg as my entry point because I knew I wanted to watch some judo, and this story intrigued me. Sure, the human interest story lost, but it was a cool story.

The Favorite: Mongolia

And there's the other reason. Mongolia had the gold medal favorite in both the men's and women's "Half Light" category. I was prepared to cheer Tsagaanbaatar Khashbaatar and Bundmaa Munkbaatar on to victory. And, given enough time, I would learn how to pronounce their names. Unfortunately, neither of the Mongolian favorites made it past the quarterfinals. The silver medal favorite both lost early as well, meaning this was a wide open tournament once we were in the quarters.

The Gold Medals: North Korea and Georgia

In yet another way judo makes no damn sense, there are two bronze medal winners. It's kind of a neat concept, as the winners of the semifinals move on to the finals while the losers then fight the guy the finalist beat in the quarters. So you don't get hosed out of a medal just by fighting the best guy early in the bracket, but still. Two bronze medals? Come on.

The men's final, to be honest, was a bit of a letdown. The Hungarian was clearly the aggressor, yet he couldn't score any points.* The Georgian scored an early yuko and then hung on for victory. He then ran around the arena with a bloody lip while a cover version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" played over the arena's speakers (it was sung by a woman). At this point, that seemed perfectly normal. That's what judo does to you.

*Ed Note - I say clearly as if I'm anywhere near a judo expert. I still don't understand the scoring system, but just bear with me.

The women's final was a bit more exciting. The Cuban and North Korean competitor each took turns trying to throw the other, and it seemed to be an entertaining, back and forth match. It was tied after regulation, so it went to Golden Point. There, the North Korean scored a point which seemed to be a pretty questionable call if I do say so myself. As she celebrated, the Cuban dropped to the mat and sobbed. No mockery here, it was a draining match to watch, and I think she felt screwed by a borderline call. So close to a gold medal.

Poseur's Enjoyment Level: Confused, but High

Watching Olympic judo without any explanation to help guide you is as close to taking mushrooms as a sports fan can get without, well, taking mushrooms.* I watched three hours of judo and I still don't understand the rules, technique, or even the field of play. Yet I had a blast watching it and you can bet your ass I'll be tuning in again. Can't wait to see the "Half Middle" weight class.

*The powers that be wish to inform you that this is not to be implied as an endorsement of drug use by the site or this blogger. Mushrooms are disgusting. Don't eat fungus, kids. I don't even put mushrooms on pizza.

Swimming & Track Update

Yes, the French beat the Americans in the 4x100 free relay. Sacre bleu! But let's be honest, this is not some staggering upset. Well, it is, but not for the reasons you think. The Australians were heavy favorites to win gold, and they didn't even medal. The Aussies have been fairly quiet in the pool, by their usual lofty standards. However, France lost out on the gold medal by less than a tenth of a second in 2008. Revenge is a dish best served tartar...

Still, it was a good night for the Americans. Hansen and Schmitt both took home medals in events they weren't supposed to win, so a medal can be seen as a victory. Schmitt set an American record in a silver medal performance losing to Muffat (those damn French again!), who set an Olympic record in the 400 free. Not to be outdone, Dana Vollmer set a world record of her own in the 100 butterfly.

The Americans aren't dominating, but they do lead the medal count in the pool by a decent margin (8 to China's 4). However, the US only have two golds, along with the French and the Chinese. It's been a great performance so far... it just hasn't been transcendent. And we're used to transcendent.