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Opinion: The harsh reality of the road to the Olympics
Opinion: The harsh reality of the road to the Olympics
16 Dec 2020 08:30
by Krzysztof Wilkomirski
Reuters

There was a special duel in Japan on Sunday. Hifumi Abe and Joshiro Maruyama - two great judo masters from the Land of the Rising Sun battled for one spot in Tokyo on the tatami. The stake in this spectacular fight was promotion to the Games. It could easily be a premature Olympic final. But one of these players will watch the Tokyo 2020 tournament on TV, and the judo level at the games will suffer. It's outrageous.

I know that's what sport is like. Beautiful, but at the same time brutal and ruthlessly cruel. One can say that "there is no room for sentiment in sport", or that "this is what sport is like", or that "the games have their own rules". But does it have to be like that? Shouldn't we at least focus on the aspects we have influence on to make the sport even more beautiful and honest? I have been preparing to write this article for months, probably from the spring when the pandemic broke out. Judo qualification has been interrupted and when I was locked in my house, I had some time to think. I would probably put off writing these few sentences indefinitely, I would probably never start writing, but after Abe and Maruyama's fight I finally mobilized myself.

These two competitors hardly need to be introduced in the judo community. Let me just remind you that in the judo tournament at the Olympic Games, only one representative from each country can appear in the weight category and this is the starting point for this commentary on recent events. As it happens, Abe and Maruyama weigh the same, hence the story. In such strong federations as, inter alia, the Japanese one, selecting one representative is often extremely difficult and causes great disappointment in the rejected. The two judoka just mentioned are the stars of the highest format. Both of them, in addition to triumphs at the largest events in the world, have achieved gold medals of the world championships.

Hifumi Abe in 2017 and 2018 won gold medals at the globe championships. At the World Championships a year ago, Abe and Maruyama met in the semi-final. After a long and even fight, the latter won, and only in extra time. In the end, they both stood on the podium, because Maruyama triumphed in the final, and Abe in the fight for bronze. A few months later they faced each other again. This time in the final of the extremely prestigious international tournament in Osaka. However, the stakes of this battle turned out to be much greater than "only" the glory of victory. If Maruyama had won, he would have secured a place in the Japanese national team for next year's games.

Once again, extra time was needed to decide between the two heroes, and Abe finally won, thus joining the last-minute “drip” in the competition for a place in the All Japan squad. He extended his chances. Not wanting to make such a difficult decision that would be very harmful for one of the players, it was decided to organize a special tournament ... with only one fight, Abe - Maruyama.

Prize: participation in the Olympic tournament in Tokyo. A judo fight normally lasts four minutes. It took ... 24 minutes to select the winner on Sunday. This is just proof of how equal and high level has been demonstrated in this battle. Only one winner was allowed from the mat. It was Abe.

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