The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up

From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

He was 6 foot 6 inches or nearly 2 meters tall. When Anton Geesink entered a judo tournament, in a time when there were no weight classes and a 120-kilogram giant like Geesink could compete against a 70-kilo judo-ka, he intimidated. Geesink was a European storm, and the Japanese could hear it coming in the early 1960s. In 1961, Geesink defeated the Japanese champion Koji Sone, ending Japanese domination in the sport.

In 1964, it seemed pre-ordained that Geesink would make it to the finals. But the Japanese held out hope that Akio Kaminaga, would rise to the occasion and uphold national pride. And there they were, in the Budokan, facing off. Ada Kok, winner of two silver medals in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics, was there to witness. Kok is Dutch, and as a reward to medalists, the Dutch Olympic Committee invited Kok to watch her compatriot, Geesink, in the judo open weight finals.

Geesink vs Kaminaga_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_The Kyodo News Service
Geesink asking the crowd to quiet down. From the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

“I had just turned 16, so I accepted this invitation as something normal. It was just a fight to me at the time. But on reflection, I realized I was watching a culture shock of sorts, going throughout Japan. The Budokan was silent. Quiet. I could hear people crying. It was like a solar eclipse had suddenly blackened out all of Japan. It was a feeling of doom.

“But of course, it was tremendous for us, the Dutch. And I remember the Dutch officials were elated, and wanted to jump on the judo mat with their shoes on. But Geesink waved them off, saying “No, go off!”.

If you watch the film of the match, Geesink simply overpowered Kaminaga, and Geesink was seen as a freak of nature, and thus his victory was seen as an anomoly. But as Tokyo bronze medalist, James Bregman, was quoted as saying in this NY Times obituary of Geesink, the Dutch judoka was “a technical genius, very powerful, very fast judo player of consummate skill in a very large frame.”

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