Japan claims gold as French Riner settles for bronze
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Japanese Satoshi Ishii won a gold medal in heavyweight judo after beating Abdullo Tangriev of Uzbekistan. But many had expected a final against the teenage world champion, Frenchman Teddy Riner, who clinched the bronze medal.
AFP - New Olympic heavyweight judo champion Satoshi Ishii said judo was a fight to the death and that he was relieved to have survived the biggest competition of his career.
The 21-year-old was fighting in his first Olympics and only his second international competition at +100kg, having begun his career at -100kg, the weight at which he was crowned World junior champion four years ago.
In Beijing on Friday he beat Abdullo Tangriev of Uzbekistan in the final to give Japan their fourth gold medal of the Olympic judo competition.
Before the Games began all the talk had been about Ishii, the rising star of Japanese judo, and teenage world champion Teddy Riner of France with purists hoping they would meet in the final.
But while Ishii kept up his end of the bargain, Riner fell to Tangriev in the quarter-finals and eventually had to settle for bronze after fighting back through the repechage.
Ishii said he was disappointed to have missed out on fighting the giant Frenchman, who stands at more than 2m tall.
"In my view a bout is a battle to the death and now I can go home alive and I feel relieved," he said.
"It was unfortunate that I could not fight Riner but Tangriev, who beat Riner, is also strong.
"I respect Riner as a hard worker who undergoes a great amount of training. So I definitely want to fight him.
"And I also want to ask him to train with me."
The pair should get plenty of opportunities to compete against one another and train together at training camps as they become fixtures on the judo circuit for years to come.
Ishii may have stolen a march on Riner with his victory here, though. He reached the final by winning every fight by the maximum ippon score but he could not find a way to fell Tangriev, although he earned victory by being the more aggressive, with the Uzbek being penalised for passivity.
"My body is small for a heavyweight and I am not tall. I am not a type whose techniques are sharp," admitted Ishii.
"So I have planned my fights to play it safe by earning points through my opponent's penalties."
"As I analyse the reason for my victory, it seems to me that my kind of judo is widely seen as that of a 'heel' (the bad guy in pro wrestling, meaning Ishii's judo is not seen as classic or attractive).
"I have insisted on my judo and my idea. That may be the reason why.
"But I am not naive enough to believe that I can go on winning with this kind of judo.
"I want to follow the style of judo similar to that of South Korean player Jeon Ki-Young in the build-up to the next Olympics. I will study him through videos and polish up myself."
Ishii has long been seen as going against the grain of Japanese judo, using the kind of grappling techniques favoured by Eastern Europeans rather than the upright classical judo of the Japanese.
And coming from a country that prides itself on its technically gifted champions, Ishii's comments about Jeon will come as a slap in the face as Japan has no dearth of potential idols.
However, Jeon, a three-time world champion and Olympic champion in Atlanta in 1996, is considered as one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever produced and his unconventional throws may not have been classical but they were highly effective.
He also never lost a fight in international competition and beat the Japanese champion of the time Hidehiko Yoshida both times they met.