Our Australian based Olympic Judo Team left Australia from Sydney on Wednesday 27th August. Josh Katz 60kg, Nathan Katz 66kg, Jake Bensted 73kg, Eoin Coughlan 81kg, Chloe Rayner 48kg, and Daniel Kelly Head Coach. Overseas-based athletes Katharina Haecker 63kg and Miranda Giambelli 78kg travelled to Rio from Hamburg and Milan respectively. Over the next couple of days, they trained at a local Brazilian club (an open air dojo) together with Brazilian Judoka, and the teams from Azerbaijan and New Zealand, also keeping up their strength and conditioning and weight management.
Kerrye and I arrived on the 2nd August and as I was provided a Coach accreditation to support the Head Coach, I could participate in a number of training sessions at the official training venue. It was great to be able to support the boys this way. Kerrye and I stayed in an apartment in Barra near the village and the competition venue. We also caught up with the boys at a purpose built venue away from the village for visitors to the Australian Team members
For the boys, as was the case for the other Aussie Judo athletes, qualifying for the Games was a lifelong dream. Josh being the youngest athlete in the Judo competition and Nathan at only 21 will have many years of international Judo ahead of them and much more international experience to gain. However, they always had a firm belief in their ability based on a huge training ethic and a thirst for knowledge and improvement. They spent a great deal of time overseas since leaving school, which for Josh was only late 2015. So for this Olympics, their aim was to absolutely scare the crap out of the seeded players and see what mark they could leave on the international Judo map. Kerrye and I were anxious but also confident in the boys’ abilities to perform on this stage.
Josh competed on Day 1 and Nathan on Day 2 (6th and 7th August) which meant they had to miss the Opening Ceremony but would have a lot of time afterwards to soak up the atmosphere.
The Draw came out and Josh drew the UZB athlete who was a very strong and accomplished opponent. Josh was not overwhelmed at any stage and went about his warm-up with Nathan fiercely and professionally. The aim was to drag out the match for a couple of minutes and to try to frustrate his opponent to create opportunities. As it happened UZB treated Josh with huge respect as his initial attacks were well covered by Josh. So UZB aggressively attacked Josh’s arm in a transition move to the ground. The first time Josh evaded well, but UZB persisted and eventually caught Josh in a submission. Kerrye and I felt his loss deeply but knew that he would be much stronger from the experience. UZB fought extremely well all day and ended up with the Bronze. Josh was disappointed but in no way out of his league at this level. Josh was no less motivated to achieve what he has always planned to do which is to get on that Olympic podium. We were and are immensely proud of his effort.
On Day 2 Nathan was the only Australian competing and the stomach bug he experienced a couple of days before was a distant memory. His preparation was perfect and he drew the African champion whom he narrowly defeated at the Tokyo Grand Slam in late 2015 so he was well known to Nathan. Nathan’s preparation was also perfect and this match went exactly to plan, with Nathan dominating grips and posture and taking every opportunity for the advantage. With only 40 seconds remaining his dominance was reflected on the scoreboard with the Moroccan picking up 3 penalties to Nathan’s 1. Nath just needed to hold out but something inside him created an urge to close the match with an attack. Unfortunately he was countered for Yuko putting MAR ahead. It was fairly clear that MAR deserved a fourth penalty (and therefore a DQ) as Nath pressured the last 30 seconds but it didn’t happen and that’s how it ended. MAR then lost to CAN in the QF, also a turnaround as he defeated CAN in Tokyo last year. Nath was distraught and both Kerrye and I could not hide our sadness for him, knowing the effort that he had put into this day and knowing how close he came to winning this match. Again we were immensely proud of how he carried himself on that great stage and how close he came to a fine win. In the end that’s what makes Judo so unique, extremely demanding on mind and body and where the slightest lapse in concentration can cost the match. There is no doubt that these boys will achieve their goals and we will of course support them all the way.
A quick run-down on the rest of the team: Also on Day 1, Chloe Rayner took to the mat against a French girl 11 years her senior and gave a solid performance before getting caught on the ground, great experience for a very young Judoka. On Day 3 Jake Bensted put up a great effort beating his opponent from Tanzania and also fought well against his AZE opponent before submitting from an armbar. AZE went on to win Silver. Day 4 saw Katharina Haecker defeat her opponent from Andorra and put up a good match before losing to her Japanese opponent. Unfortunately Eoin Coughlan lost his first match against Korea and on Day 6 Miranda Giambelli lost her match against the former world champion Brazilian (and the crowd).
So ended the Judo competition for the Aussie team. Two wins doesn’t sound like much but so much depends on the Draw and everyone put up good performances lifting to their best levels, so that’s all the athletes can expect of themselves and that’s all anyone can really ask of them. This was a very young team and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see all of them in Tokyo, far more experienced and much closer to reaching those podium goals. They carried themselves admirably and with pride and we were and still are very proud of all of them. Seeing them perform so competitively and so maturely against the world’s best at their age only makes us imagine what lies ahead.
The Judo Olympic competition saw some fantastic matches and some interesting results with a huge spread of countries taking out Gold, including the usual powerhouses Japan, Russia, and France, but also Czech Republic, USA, Argentina, Slovenia, Kosovo, Brazil and Italy, in all 10 countries sharing 14 possible Golds.
We spent much of the next week watching many other events including athletics, weightlifting, basketball, wrestling (including the session where the Kazakh coaches went nuts), handball, volleyball, table-tennis, and diving. Travelling on the BRT (Rapid transport bus) and train was interesting. There are merchants walking the carriages on the trains selling everything from tools to snacks and even more merchants at train stations and on footpaths around them. The sites outside the windows on the train and bus were rough. On TV you saw clean arenas and venues, clean beaches and majestic mountains climbing out of the green forests in the background. What you didn’t see were the rows and rows of graffiti-strewn grey shop-fronts more than half of which were closed, the bars on windows, razor-wire rolls on walls protecting properties and bolted gates separating the world from the “communities”, contrasting with the shops that sell shiny new mag wheels, the new car showrooms and the large corporate buildings. In the background, heaps of houses were piled up in wedges cut into the tall hillsides, most of them with only facades of wall fronts and windows and with doors missing so you wondered if they were inhabited at all as there is no sign of life. Military presence everywhere, not for aesthetics but hands at the ready always clutching sub-machine guns. Despite cleaners all over the place sweeping and mopping, the place was generally poor and dirty and trying to cope with the mad influx of super sport fans. Many locals appeared to have been allocated tickets to events and they were truly passionate about their sportspeople regardless of event. Volunteers were generally very friendly and helped as best they could. The boys made the best of post-competition celebrations catching up with many Judo friends from other countries as well as meeting new athletes from all over the world. They also supported the Aussies at competitions and saw some great finals like Usain’s 200 sadly Australia’s loss in the Basketball against Serbia. After the boys moved out of the village we did some great sight-seeing at Copacabana, Ipanema, Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Emotions are always high for us when we see or coach our boys at major events, but none higher than at these Games and together with the excitement and anticipation that the next 4 years will bring, we very much look forward to the next Olympic cycle and hope to see everyone back with us in Tokyo 2020, hopefully with more representation from our Budokan Judo Club, our other "family"