Promoted to the front page from the FanPosts by Brent Brookhouse
This is part 1 in my look at the best/most interesting competitors taking part in the 2012 Olympics. My primer on Judo can be seen here.
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
It is impossible to talk about this weight class without mentioning its former queen, Ryoko Tani. With 5 Olympic medals(2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze) and 8 World Championship medals(7 golds, 1 bronze), she basically ran over almost everyone in her division for a 17 year stretch that started with the 1991 Worlds and ended with a Bronze at Bejing.
The combination of blinding speed, unyielding aggression and sublime technique she displayed made her a joy to watch and not just one of the greatest female judoka of all time, but also probably one of the greatest female athletes in any sport. I've included a highlight below to give you a feel for what she was capable of.
Even with her gone, Japan still qualified the top two women at this weight. Tomoko Fukumi(2009 World Gold Medalist, 2010,2011 Silver) and Haruna Asami(2010,2011 World gold medalist). Even though Asami beat Fukumi in the last two world championships, Fukumi has the marginally better international record and won the 2012 All-Japan Judo Championships. That is usually, but not always, considered the final selection event for the Olympics and the winner gets the spot. Fukumi will probably win the gold. Generally she wins all the competitions she goes up for, especially when Asami isn't around. The question is really about who comes next.
My guess, world #3 ranked Sarah Menezes of Brazil(2x World Junior Champion, 2x World Bronze Medallist, 1x Pan Am Champion). Menezes is part of the new crop of Brazillian female judoka who I expect to be very competitive this year and extremely dangerous by Rio. The BBC has a profile of her up here.
I'm also expecting interesting things from Frederique Jossinet of France(Olympic Silver, 4x World Medalist, 9x European Medalist), Munkhbat of Mongolia(Asian champion 2012), Wu Shugen of China(2012 Asian Silver Medalist), Jung-Yeon Chung of Korea(World Bronze medalist, 4x Asian Games Medalist) and Dayaris Mestre of Cuba(5x Pan Am Medalist)
The British entry at this weight is Kelly Edwards, a 21 year old whose best wins are a bronze at the European under 20 championships and 2 European cup golds. I wouldn't expect too much here. She's too inexperienced and this weight class has too many bad matches for her
This in an insanely competitive division. Most of the top 20 ranked men are probably capable of taking each other out on any given day. Well, except for the man at the very top, Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan. Sobirov is the 2010 and 2011 world champion, a Bejing bronze medalist and has been on a tear for the last 2 years winning pretty much everything he entered. To give you an idea of how dominant he has been, he has almost twice as many world ranking points as the current world #2. Since he's already beaten the best people he'll be facing in london multiple times, he has to be the pick for gold.
The sentimental part of me though leans towards Georgii Zantaraia of Ukraine. In addition to having a gold, silver and bronze medal at the Worlds, Zantaraia has a gold and silver at the Europeans. Plus he shows off some of the most spectacularly acrobatic judo you will ever see and is just a joy to watch
Next on my list, Hiroaki Hiraoka of Japan, who actually came second in qualifying points to Japan's Hirofumi Yamamoto(no relation to Kid that I know of) but won the All-Japans this year and has a stronger competition record including two silvers and a bronze at the Worlds and a silver at the Asian games. His style is incredibly smooth and very powerful and he's a real danger to anyone he faces. With luck we'll get to see him smash some people in spectacular fashion
Other people to watch out for, pretty much most of the top 20. Basically, if you see anyone from Russia, Georgia, Korea, France, Mongolia, Armenia, Brazil, Germany, Canada, Italy or Austria, it will be a good, hard match. Lighter weights in Judo are a lot like lighter weights in MMA. Everyone is fast, skilled and in good shape. Entertainment is pretty much guaranteed.
Outside of the top 20. I'm kinda a fan of Eisa Majrashi of Saudi Arabia. He hasn't had any spectacular wins, but I've never seen him give less than an honest fight to anyone he's faced and I'm rooting for him to come up with something spectacular.
Finally, because I'm in the UK, I'll mention Ashley McKenzie, the 22 year old who has been groomed for this competition for the last 4 years. His best win is a gold in the 2010 European u23 championships and he has a handful of good wins at the World and European level, but nothing impressive when compared with his competition. Honestly, I haven't seen anything about his game that I find super impressive, but he is a natural showman who seems to elevate his game in front of the home crowd. Fighting in London might pull something spectacular out of him. I'm not holding my breath though.