A Not-So-Thorough Olympic Judo Preview: Primer

Promoted to the front page by Kid Nate and Brent Brookhouse.

As someone who really, really appreciates Mike Riordan's Olympic wrestling previews, I feel like its worth contributing one for Olympic judo.


Photo via Wikicommons

First though, my disclaimers:

I'm not at all a world class judoka. I've been practising judo for just about 5 years and will probably have my black belt before the end of the year. What I do have is the kind of mildly obsessive personality that has led me to read as much as possible, watch as much tape as possible and pick the brains of everyone I come across, which includes more than a few international competitors and a couple of ex Olympians.

Hence, I'm not claiming this is the best possible preview on the planet, but I am familiar with the people I'm talking about and should be able to provide some insight into the important people to watch for at each weight. I'm picking my favourites on a mix of competition results, international rankings and just the people whose games I like. Hence, don't bet on my picks.

Now on to the primer!

If you want some background info on the history and practice of Judo, there are some posts on BE on the topic. But I'll talk some about the weight classes, rules of the sport and little bit about how qualification is handled

Weight Classes:

Judo has 7 weight classes each in both the male and female divisions. Each day of Olympic activity pairs the equivalent male and female weight classes so I'll be writing up these previews in order of paired weight classes

Male Female

-60kg -48kg

-66kg -52kg

-73kg -57kg

-81kg -63kg

-90kg -70kg

-100kg -78kg

+100kg +78kg

Judo Rules:

A full listing of the competition rules is here, but I'll summarize the important bits.


Judo matches take place on a square mat area with three referees supervising. Two referees are seated diagonally across from each other at the corners of the mat area while the main referee stands on the mat. The main referee starts and stops the match and awards penalties.

When a throw happens all three referees indicate scores, but the main referee has primacy. If there is a disagreement the three referees will confer. They can also ask for a fourth referee to view a video replay and make a ruling if necessary.

The main referee is also allowed to stand people up from matwork if he feels there is no action taking place in a reasonable amount of time.

Judo matches are 5 minutes long. In the event of a tie at full time, there is then 3 minutes of extra time where the first person to concede any score loses. After extra time, the judges indicate who they believe won using coloured flags and the majority decision wins.

A judoka scores points in competition by either throwing, pinning or submitting their opponent. Submissions are limited to chokes and armlocks. The three possible scores are

Ippon: A full point that immediately ends the match. This can be achieved by

  • Throwing the opponent in a controlled manner unto their back with considerable force and speed
  • Pinning them for 25 seconds or
  • Submission/technical submission to a choke or armlock attacking the elbow joint.

Waza-Ari: A half point. Two of these equal an ippon. Achieved by

  • Throwing an opponent in a manner which fulfils 3 of the 4 conditions for ippon
  • Pinning then for 20 seconds

Yuko: The equivalent of an advantage. You can accumulate as many of these as you want. Achieved by

  • Throwing an opponent with control, but partly lacking 2 of the three other required elements(e.g. Rolling someone unto their side without much speed)
  • Pinning them for 15 seconds

Scoring is qualitative rather than cumulative, so if a match ends and one competitor has a Waza-ari and the other has 5 Yukos, The waza-ari trumps.

Scoring can also happen by awarding penalties. The first penalty is non scoring, but all other penalties result in the cumulative awarding of points to your opponents(i.e. 2 penalties = Yuko, 3 penalties = Waza-Ari, 4 penalties = Ippon). Penalties are generally awarded for stalling, refusing to engage, holding illegal grips for too long etc.

Since there has been a lot of talk about the new rules regarding leg grabbing, I'll address that here:

The IJF rules since the end of the Beijing Olympics prohibit any attack that involves grabbing the leg as a primary attack. As a counterattack or as a continuation from another attack it is still legal. People tend to assume Japan was responsible for it, but the IJF has always been a primarily European institution and most of its rule changes have to do with trying to turn Judo into a TV friendly sport. Personally I don't think that will work. Much like wrestling or BJJ its pretty hard to just randomly get people to appreciate its subtleties.

Olympic Qualification

For to qualify for the Olympics, athletes accumulate points by competing in IJF sanctioned competitions like the World and Continental championships, Grand Slams, Grand Prix and World Cups. The top 22 men and top 14 women at each weight automatically qualify and then the IJF retains the right to select wild cards, usually judoka from countries without the resources to send them to large numbers of international competitions.

In cases where a country has more than one person in the top 25, it is left to their national body to decide who they send to the olympics. In the USA that led to a fight-off between Michael Eldred and Nick Delpopolo. Other countries decide by some combination of national championships, international results and whims of the governing body.

To give you a feel for who the big countries are in the sport, the only countries to qualify a person at every weight are Japan, France, Brazil and South Korea. Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan qualified every Men's weight, which also gives you some idea of how strong the USSR used to be

Obviously, Great Britain gets a person in every weight because its the host.

Next, I'll go down each weight pair and discuss who qualified, who the top people are and who I would like/expect to win. Hope you guys like it.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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