Geesink vs Kaminaga_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_The Kyodo News Service
Anton Geesink staving off fans at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_ from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”.

It was shocking. When Or Sasson of Israel extended his hand to Islam El Shehaby of Egypt to express a match well fought at the Rio Olympics, the Egyptian turned and walked away.

There were no words in anger, no fists raised in threat. But in the world of sportsmanship, and more specifically in the gruff quietude of judo, the action of El Shehaby was akin to a slap in the face.

In Judo, there is an expectation of restraint and calmness, regardless of whether one makes the perfect throw or is body slammed in twisting agony, whether one wins or loses. When Anton Geesink shocked all of Japan by handily defeating Akio Kaminaga to win the gold medal in the open division of the 1964 Olympics, Geesink did not revel in his victory. In fact, right after the referee tapped his shoulder to indicate his victory, Geesink had to deal with an unexpected breach of etiquette by Dutch fans who sought to storm the judo mat in victory. He jumped to his feet and walked towards them, his right hand extended in a halt sign, and a hard stare stopped them in their tracks.

The two competitors then kneeled facing each other, getting their judo-gi in order in a matter-of-fact manner. They stood and bowed. Geesink walked up to Kaminaga impassively, but when he reached over to offer a small hug to his competitor, Kaminaga offered a smile of resignation and happiness for the other, which in turn gave Geesink permission to smile back in relief.

James Bregman and his brotherhood of judoka understood this interaction to be proper.

Bregman won the bronze medal in the middleweight class in judo’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Summer Games of 1964. Some say, he should have had a shot at gold if not for a quick judgment call that went the other way.

james-bregman_1964-tokyo-olympics_2
Bregman (#5) throwing an opponent at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_ from James Bregman’s personal collection.

Bregman had defeated Argentinian Rodolfo Perez to get to the medal round. He faced off against Wolfgang Hofmann of Germany for a chance at gold. Towards the middle of the match, Hofmann got Bregman in an arm bar, “an effective one” as Bregman put it. “He nearly broke my arm.” Bregman told me that he approached Hofmann with an uchimata, but Hofmann blocked it. Then Bregman performed a left ip-pon seoi-nage over the shoulder and threw Hofmann to the mat, but not for a full point. They rolled and Hofmann then got Bregman in an arm lock. Bregman was able to stand up and also got Hofmann off the mat.

According to Bregman, the rules of judo at the time stated that if a person is in an arm lock but is standing, and the person who is giving the arm lock is off the ground, then the referee is supposed to say “matte”, stopping the match briefly so that the judoka can re-set. And in fact, the referee did indeed say “matte“, which means “wait”. Hofmann either didn’t hear that, or ignored it, and continued with the arm lock. Bregman thinking his arm was about to break, tapped out and gave up. In that instant, the referee simply ignored the fact that he had said “matte“, and awarded the match to Hofmann.

“I’m like, ‘what'”, said Bregman. “I’m in a lot of pain holding my elbow walking off the mat. But in judo, you don’t say a word, you show no emotion, and you honor your opponent as a victor, in a gentlemanly fashion. And you accept the referee’s judgment.”

What was more important was how he was greeted by his colleagues at Meiji University, home of the toughest judoka in the world in the 1960s. “When I won the bronze, the Japanese judoka came over and congratulated me and hugged me. It was like Meiji had won a gold medal. They were ecstatic for me.”

Judoka James Bregman Part 1: To Be a Waza-shi

Claressa Shields USA
Claressa Shields, SHE GOAT

She grew up in Flint, Michigan, a city so poor and underserved that the local government doesn’t care their children are being poisoned by lead in the water. But she had a talent – to hit, and hit hard.

Claressa Shields is the world’s strongest female boxer in the middleweight class (75kg), and is a favorite to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In fact, she could become the first American to win boxing gold in two successive Olympics.

She is a marketing phenomenon heading into the Summer Games – the most recent being her appearance in the recent Sports Illustrated The Magazine’s Body issue, which features nude photos of some of the most famous athletes in the world. But it is the documentary, T-Rex, which tells the story of a fragile young girl turning into a determined woman and Olympic champion, that put her firmly on the American pop culture map.

Will she have strong competition at the Rio Games? Of course, she still has to be win her three or four contests. But as Shields stated recently in Slate’s sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen, she has fought all her known competition and beat them all at least once. And when she won the middleweight women’s world boxing championship on May 27 this year in Astana, Kazakhstan, she beat the only strong contender she had not faced, Nouchka Fontjin of the Netherlands.

She’s (Nouchka) pretty tall, she’s a heavy hitter. For the last two years, I just can’t wait to fight her. I can’t wait to run into her. She was ranked number 3 in the world, and when someone’s ranked that high, and I hadn’t fought them, there’s always some talk. I want to prove the doubters wrong, prove that I’m the best, prove that I cannot be beat by anybody. For the last two years, she’s been an opponent I’ve been hitting on in the gym against her because I thought she was top competition. I fought her in the worlds and dominated her, 3-0. She was competitive. But I was just great.

Shields is 74-1 in her career, a two-time world champion, gunning for a second Olympic gold. Chances of success? High.