18:49 26 aoû

Referees, go with the flow, feel the fight

Columnist Jane Bridge - From Russia with love… and judo - Chapter 3

My name is Jane Bridge, former World Champion (New York, 1980, u48kg) and I'm a 7th dan judo. I've been writing a column in L"Esprit du Judo" a French judo magazine, for a few years in French and now I think it's time to address an audience in English.

August 26th, Chelyabinsk, Russia.

I bumped into Ami Kondo this morning. She told me that it was only when she saw her medal on waking up that she believed she was world champion. She also told me that as soon as she arrives back in Japan she has to start training for the junior national championships. Down to reality with a bump I guess. But her world title will stand her in good stead amongst the juniors. Maria Laborde from Cuba, bronze medal in 48kg gave me a (rather painful) hug. Have you seen her muscles? We had met last year at the training centre in La Havana where I watched her do Uchi Komi after a grueling randori session on rubber bands that I couldn't even stretch out. I also had a chat with Maki Tsukada, Olympic champion in Beijing and now national coach for the Japanese women's team. She told me that she was very tired because looking after players as a coach was much more tiring than being a fighter and just looking after yourself.

I met Japanese Ami Kondo. I won the 1st world title in -48kg. It was in New York in 1980.
She won the 20th yesterday, 34 years after...

We had a good days judo yesterday and an even better one today. I think one of the reasons is the refereeing. Since the Olympics, we  got used to seeing an abundance  of "shidoing" that had become the norm in all fights. I remember being at the Paris Grand Slam when the new rules first came out. At one point I looked across at the score boards and I counted 20 shidos distributed across the five score boards.

Hansokumake equals ippon

Of course this "improved" the statistics dramatically. Hansokumake being registered as a 10 point win. Compared to the Olympics, there were twice as many ippons thanks to the new rules. The reality was of course quite different.  Fighters - as usual - adapted to the rules immediately and instead of looking to throw for ippon, as apparently the rules had been adjusted for, they just tried to get a first shido to the opponent. From then on a race for shidos began and the first one to the post was disqualified. The new rules had an opposite effect.
Another aspect of the refereeing that we have got used to is the oppressive authority  imposed on the referees from the "top table", god of the referees. From a spectators point of view, albeit an experienced one, it appeared that the referees were no longer in charge of the match but were just there to follow the instructions whispered in their ear by means of an ear piece. Many complaints have been registered and frustration was created by this kind of behavior but it seemed that no one cared.

Judo fights became boring, and the tactical aspect of accumulating penalties even trickled down to the younger age groups (in France at least), and coaches were more concentrated on teaching their young students tactics rather than how to throw for ippon. I know some great lovers of judo who no longer wanted to be involved in teaching judo, judo had become too tactical for their liking.

Referees trained to a high level

At the press conference after the draw here in Chelyabinsk, Juan Carlos Barcos - the refereeing god -  told the press that the referees had been prepared to a high level for this edition of the world championships. I was skeptical. What could this mean? More shidos? But after two days of competition I'm inclined to agree with Mr Barcos. What enabled things to change suddenly. Apparently the new directive is to referee by interpreting and analyzing the situation, understand the fight. Go with the flow! Now why didn't they think of that before? In these first two days very few shidos have been awarded. Referees with support from their mat table are allowed to make their independent decisions, assume the responsibility. Only when certain situations need to be handled is there intervention from on high. Don't get me wrong there is still a lot of improvement to be made.

With Mr Juan Carlos Barcos, IJF Refereing director

Let the fighters fight it out

Take the fight between Ebinuma and Georgii (the cat) Zantaraia in the quarter final today. It was an epic encounter. Both fighters going at it hammer and tongues. Attack for attack, counters and counters of counters. Spins and head rolls. No score and very little to separate the two fighters. Then with a few seconds to go the referee awards a shido to Zantaraia and the fight almost finishes on a low. The referee, maybe immediatly regretting her choice, fortunately decides to give a shido to the Japanese fighter which allows the fight to go into golden score. You could feel the excitement build up again in the stadium as they get ready for a new battle of the two mighties. 

A shido too many

Two players who are desperate to get into the semi final don't do false attacks or run out of the area, not these fighters and not at this level anyway. Yes tiredness can kick in and some attacks might not be as precise as is necessary. To end this calibre of fight, to take it into your own hands to decide who should win the fight, and this is what the referee did when she gave a shido to Zantaraia is, to put it mildly, a mistake. Not wanting the golden score to go on too long, wanting to finish the fight prematurely is a habit that needs to stop, especially in a combat of this level. Let the players show who is the best, let them fight it out to the bitter end, it's all part of judo. It was a great fight, it could have become a legendary one.

Give us back our minute

Remember not long ago, women's fights were five minutes same as the men. I still haven't been able to accept this humiliation. I don't understand why the time has been reduced from five to four minutes - same as cadets! When you are down by a yuko and your opponent can bide the time for the next three shidos before she does something positive I can assure you that a four minute fight slips by at an amazing speed. Also this situation doesn't encourage the players to take risks and throw for ippon. It's much safer to hold onto the lead by incurring a few penalties.
The top women are as well trained as their men counterparts. Look at Kelmendi, she looked superhuman today. Fast as lightning with the impact of a meteorite piercing the earth, or Laborde the tank, Kuziutina the o goshi woman, My new friend Kondo, who trains 5 hours a day. Do you think that these women are worried to do five minute fights?
If we look at the top judo nations, the women are based in training centers which enable them to train everyday twice a day same as the men, and quite often with men.

Women train harder than men

Women as we know can be terribly determined and focused. Can fight and can give as good as they can get. I can name some places where the women train harder than the men.

So, come on guys this is your last chance, give us back our minute, or maybe I won't ask nicely the next time.

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 2) here 
Ami Kondo, last but not least

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 1) here 
"I can tell you the "Chelyabinskys" hearts are warm !"


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