Anton GEESINK (NED) will forever be remembered for his gold medal winning performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It was the moment when Japan’s hitherto invincible status in their beloved sport of judo was unexpectedly brought crashing down at the iconic Nippon Budokan by the giant Dutchman. In as spectacular a fashion as Geesink’s 1964 win the French team stepped up in the final of the inaugural mixed team event to down the might of Japan.
The return of the Olympic Games to Tokyo and the Nippon Budokan was the opportunity for the host nation to demonstrate that despite the hugely successful globalization of the sport Japan remained supreme. For the seven days of individual competition that was pretty much the case as the Japanese enjoyed a degree of success not seen since 1964. Then came day eight, the final day and the introduction of the mixed-team event. Having won the previous four world championship events Japan were for many (most certainly the Japanese themselves) the firm favourites. They had the luxury of being able to call on a potential nine gold medal winners to make up the team of six.
Perhaps it was a degree of over-confidence; the feeling that simply selecting any team of six from their heroic nine would be enough? Perhaps it was the difficulty in finding sufficient enough energy reserves to battle yet again for gold? But arguably it was not so much what Japan got wrong but what the French got right, including the inspired selection of the irrepressible Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA) to face ARAI Chizuru (JPN) at -70kgs, that saw France take a 1-0 lead. This, coupled with the team event experience of the French, in particular Axel CLERGET (FRA), the man with such success for his club Sucy-en-Brie (and whose win against an under-par MUKAI Shoichiro (JPN) put France two ahead), set France up for a memorable and truly well-deserved win.
Teddy RINER (FRA) the greatest of all time (surely he must be now), finally achieved his goal of a third Olympic gold medal (albeit in the team event). And who can deny him or any other team member their rightful place as worthy gold medal winners. Agbegnenou had waited for an Olympic gold for what to her must have seemed an eternity and then, all of a sudden the queen of judo had two. There were others too who enjoyed and celebrated the new found success of the mixed team event. It was a tremendous start to what will surely be the highpoint of future Games.
Author: Thea Cowen