SPORTS

France, Cuba win Olympic heavyweight judo golds, Saudi Arabia fighter knocked out early

08/03/2012 03:12 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - On the day of the judo heavyweight Olympic competition — when one of the fighters weighed in at more than 218 kilograms — the fighting wasn't exactly ground-shaking.

Both the men's and women's finals were largely anticlimactic, with crowds even booing one of the competitors for his apparent refusal to fight. And in what was arguably the day's most intriguing fight, featuring Saudi Arabia's first woman judoka, the show was over in little over a minute.

Still, by the end of the day, France's Teddy Riner won the men's 100-kilogram plus Olympic judo gold medal, giving him the only medal he was missing.

Riner, 23, defeated Russia's Alexander Mikhaylin in a final remarkably devoid of action. Though Riner was mainly on the attack, Mikhaylin made little effort to fight except to bat away Riner's attempts to grip his uniform, for which he was rebuked by both the referee and the crowd.

At the end, he nearly refused to shake Riner's hand before the Frenchman wrapped him in a bear hug. Riner then dropped to his knees to savour the victory.

With a record five world championship titles, Riner is judo's biggest star. He previously won a bronze at Beijing.

"I didn't have a plan," Riner said. "I just wanted to take all my opportunities and attack first to win."

The bronze medals were won by Germany's Andreas Toelzer and Brazil's Rafael Silva.

In the women's division, Idalys Ortiz of Cuba won the women's over 78-kilogram gold, improving on the bronze she won at the Beijing Games.

Ortiz defeated Japan's Mika Sugimoto in a cagey, drawn-out final with little action, where both fighters struggled to get a grip or make any definitive attacks.

The match went into overtime and judges eventually ruled Ortiz the winner.

Sugimoto's silver was Japan's last medal of the judo competition, adding to one gold, two previous silvers, and three bronze. It is a disastrous performance for the birthplace of judo and the first time since judo became an Olympic sport that the Japanese men's team failed to win gold.

"I was quite confident we had practised more than other countries," Sugimoto said. "I really don't know why we couldn't get more medals."

The bronze medals went to Britain's Karina Bryant and China's Tong Wen.

Ricardo Blas of Guam was the competition's biggest judoka, weighing in at a hefty 218 kilograms. Blas dwarfed opponent Facinet Keita of Guinea, who was not exactly tiny himself, at 135 kilograms. After about two minutes, Blas threw Keita flat on his back to win the bout.

But size didn't seem to matter in Blas' next fight against Cuban Oscar Brayson, who won bronze at Beijing. Despite being less than half of Blas' weight, Brayson emerged the victor.

The victories of Riner and Ortiz were overshadowed by the first-round fight featuring Saudi Arabia's first female judoka Olympian, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. Shahrkhani is a blue belt who has only been training for two years, but wore a black belt to compete.

She appeared tentative on the mat, circling Puerto Rican fighter Mojica and avoiding any direct attacks. Shahrkhani mostly held her hands open, in a dangerously vulnerable stance. After 82 seconds, Mojica grabbed control of Shahrkhani's collar before flipping her onto her back for a match-ending ippon.

"I was nervous and afraid, but proud," Shahrkhani said of her fight. "I am proud to be the first Saudi woman and I'm very grateful to the crowd who supported me," she said.

Shahrkhani said she intended to fight at the Rio Games next.

"I will practice more," she vowed.

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