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All about Polish double Olympic Champion Waldemar Legien

1 Jul 2018 03:20

 by Oon Yeoh, JudoCrazy    David Finch /

Waldemar Legien was the third player to have won two Olympic gold medals. Hitoshi Saito (JPN) and Peter Seisenbacher (AUT) both won theirs in 1984 and 1988 while Legien got his in '88 and '92.

Legien wasn't the favorite in Seoul 1988. The top pick then was Japan's Hirotaka Okada, who had won the World Championships the year before. However, Okada was unexpectedly beaten by a young Frenchman, Pascal Tayot, whose unorthodox gripping flummoxed the Japanese.

This was good news for Legien, for he had lost to Okada in the 1987 World's. With the Japanese champion out of the way, Legien found himself in the final against the 1984 Olympic Champion Frank Wieneke.

It was bound to be a battle of drop seoi-nages as this was both players' favorite technique. In fact, it was drop seoi-nage that had won Wieneke the 1984 gold when he unexpectedly threw Neil Adams of Great Britain with it for ippon. Perhaps Legien was just that little bit hungrier on that day because it was his drop seoi-nage that prevailed in Seoul. Wieneke went flying over for ippon.

Legien would go on to win the European title two years later but other than that, he didn't win any other major tournaments until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. By that time he was already at the tail end of his career and was certainly not the favorite. That honor would again belong to Japan's Okada, for it was Okada who was the reigning World Champion, having won his second world title the year before.

Leading up to Barcelona 1992, Legien had fought Okada twice and lost both times. The Japanese World Champion certainly would have been a tough hurdle for Legien to overcome. But that battle never happened. Just as in 1988, the top favorite was again taken out by a relative newcomer. This time it was Nicolas Gill of Canada who shocked the world by defeating Okada. Legien then beat Gill to meet the Frenchman Tayot in the final.

Tayot was a tall, lanky guy who favored sankaku on the ground. He didn't really have any big techniques in tachi-waza but he was excellent at gripping and the battle with Legien was largely one of grips. In the end Legien won through an opportunistic kosoto-gake that gave him the lead. It was a rather unorthodox move that only earned him a minor score but it was enough for the crafty Legien to win the match, and secure his second Olympic gold medal.

Whether Legien (2 Olympic golds) or Pawel Nastula (1 Olympic and 2 World golds) should be considered Poland's greatest judo player will depend very much on what factors you are looking at.

If you were to look at dominance, Nastula was the Top Dog in his weight class from 1994 and 1997, when he won every title there was to be won at the time. In contrast, Legien never had a golden period as such. Instead, he had two absolutely brilliant moments, four years apart, both times at the Olympics.

If World titles are considered a critical factor, Nastula has two of them while Legien has none. And if you want to look at the European Championships, Nastula has three golds while Legien has one. But some people consider a second Olympic gold as trumping any other achievements at the World or European level. If that's the case then the title of the greatest Polish player should go to Waldemar Legien.

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Related Judo Photos

  • Waldemar Legien (POL) - Olympic Games Barcelona (1992, ESP) - © David Finch,
  • Waldemar Legien (POL) - © David Finch,
  • Waldemar Legien (POL), Pascal Tayot (FRA) - © David Finch,

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