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Olympic Poseur: Judo

I didn’t understand it, but I knew I liked it

Judo - Olympics: Day 6
Yes. she is legitimately awesome.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

One man’s quest to immerse himself in the Olympic spirit. Today’s sport: Judo

Spending a day with judo makes two things perfectly clear: this sport is awesome and I don’t understand a damn thing about it. Now, in my defense, the online feed had no announcers, just the ambient crowd noise. This is great if I’m watching a sport I know, but for something like judo, I’m totally lost. Though it did come through that Brazilians love some judo. That crowd was nuts.

So, in order to follow along, I turned to trusty old Wikipedia to give me a rundown on how the heck this sport was scored. I have helpfully quoted part of the section on scoring for competitive judo:

A throw that places the opponent on his back with impetus and control scores an ippon (一本?), winning the contest.[60] A lesser throw, where the opponent is thrown onto his back, but with insufficient force to merit an ippon, scores a waza-ari (技あり?).[60] Two scores of waza-ari equal an ippon waza-ari awasete ippon(技あり合わせて一本?, ).[60] A throw that places the opponent onto his side scores a yuko (有効?).[60] No amount of yukos equal a waza-ari, they are only considered in the event of an otherwise tied contest.[60]

Ippon is scored in ne-waza for pinning an opponent on his back with a recognised osaekomi-waza for 20 seconds or by forcing a submission through shime-wazaor kansetsu-waza.[60] A submission is signalled by tapping the mat or the opponent at least twice with the hand or foot, or by saying maitta (まいった?, I surrender).[60] A pin lasting for less than 20 seconds, but more than 15 seconds scores waza-ari and one lasting less than 15 seconds but more than 10 seconds scores a yuko.[60]

Oh. Well thanks for clearing that up. OK, so you gotta throw them hard, preferably on their back, but if you don’t, you can still pin them. Or they can tap out. Sounds good.

But let’s be honest, I haven’t the faintest clue what is insufficient force. And I sure as heck can’t measure impetus and control. I just like watching people try to flip each other. It’s a blast. I’m not going to pretend I had any idea what was going on at any point, but that didn’t really seem to detract from my enjoyment.

Also, Kayla Harrison is apparently really good at it. Most matches don’t end with an ippon, it usually comes down to scoring after full down. That is, unless Harrison is involved. Then she’s going to pin you, and you’re going to submit.

Harrison scored an ippon by pin or submission in every single one of her matches. It wasn’t even close. This is a woman who doesn’t rely on the judge’s scorecard, she goes straight for blood. So, of course, she’s already being asked if she is going to do MMA. Whether she does or doesn’t is of no concern to me. She’s a two-time Olympic champion, and the great American judoka of all-time.

That deserves a bow.

Team Sports

Beach Volleyball. We’ve wrapped up pool play and we’re into the elimination rounds. Amazingly, an American team finished dead last in their group, and that’s even with winning their opening match. Gibb and Patterson are the unlucky duo, but this is probably a good thing for the sport. The first couple of Olympics, this has just felt like an excuse to pad the USA medal total, so it’s good for the rest of the world to catch up to one of our teams. Besides, Dalhausser-Lucena won their group. We brought a spare.

It’s the same story in the women’s bracket. Walsh-Jennings and Ross won their group while Fendrick-Sweat finished last in theirs, despite playing well. Competition is always good for the sport, and having two American teams square off for the gold like in London is not always the best thing for a young sport. Also, Brazil is awesome, the home team, and has two teams still alive, including the favorites.


The medals kicked off with a final swim that did not involve a single American swimmer, which was a nice change of pace. Rie Kaneto of Japan held off a hard-charging Yulia Efimova to win gold in the 200m breaststroke. Efimova is denied the gold again, in slightly less dramatic fashion this time.

The huge story from the pool was the first black woman to ever win an Olympic swimming gold, Simone Manuel. She did it by setting an Olympic record and also touching the wall at the same moment as Penny Oleksiak of Canada. They each took home a gold, while Sarah Sjostrom added to her medal total. It looked like the Australian Campbell sisters were going to swim away with the race, but Bronte died over the last 20 meters, allowing the tightly packed field to surge past her. Manuel’s win is truly historic, and a proud moment for swimming.

Michael Phelps is ridiculous. The 200m IM, his signature event, was fairly close headed into the final turn. That’s when he decided to absolutely obliterate the field, and win the thing by nearly two seconds. That was the kind of performance after which you half expect the guy to then grow gills, dive into the ocean, and swim away never to be seen again.

This has of course sent the Bolt-Phelps argument into overdrive. Phelps now has the most individual gold medals ever, breaking a record that was literally over two millennia old. But there’s also the matter that swimming does give out a ton of medals, giving Phelps more opportunity to set that record. I think reasonable minds can disagree on who is the Greatest Olympian, or even if there is one as comparing across disciplines is so difficult, but this tweet by Bomani Jones ticked me off:

Look, Bomani Jones is a professional agitator and if you get mad at the things he says, that’s your own fault, not his. It’s like getting mad at a Bill Plaschke column. Some people, you should ignore. But I want to address the idea that swimming is somehow an “insular” sport. That’s just contrary to the facts.

There are only five sports which have been part of every Olympic program: track, swimming, cycling, fencing, and gymnastics (this is the first Olympics without wrestling, which is an outrageous omission). Of those five, only three sports have had over 100 countries compete in the sport: track, swimming, and cycling. Not even gymnastics meets that standard. Swimming has had 194 participating countries and 8,180 athletes. These numbers are second only to track.

There’s a reason the Olympic schedule is swimming the first week and track the second with nearly no overlap. These are the two premier events at the Olympics with the largest number of athletes and competitor nations. Calling swimming insular is completely contrary to the facts. Find a different way to diminish Phelps, because that tact is stupid.

Tomorrow: Fencing