WORLD KURASH CHAMPIONSHIPS
Many of you may remember
the article in TWOJ last year, reporting on the first World Kurash
championships from Uzbekistan. Well this year it was back again
but had moved on to the Turkish Med and the seaside resort of Antalya.
If you remember last year, TWOJ returned and A+ verdict on the first
championships. Colourful judogi, and reverberating wooden base beneath
the Gilam (Mat), an outdoor stadium, constant attacking and hoards
of noisy fans. We were looking forward to a repeat experience.
The omens were good as well with a spectacular Glass Pyramid, in
the beautiful surroundings of the Antalya Cultural Centre, for the
stadium - although in a heat wave of around 45°C every day,
some would have questioned a giant-sized greenhouse as the ideal
venue. Those worries were misplaced as it was coolly air-conditioned
and competition didn't begin until after dark. That may have seemed
like a good idea, but leaving fighters to stew in 45°C
heat all day and then hoping them to fight at night, could be construed
as a little bit of misjudgment.
Even so the opening fanfare was spectacular with fireworks lighting
up the night sky above the glass tip of the stadium. Traditional
Uzbek signers and dancers performed with vigour and commitment,
especially a particularly cute little girl who revelled in the limelight
and sported the biggest grin in the pyramid throughout her performance.
The only drawback was that there was only a single spotlight shone
on the mat and there was always a singer and a dancer so the two
had to battle for the primary spot to be seen in their best light.
It had all the makings of the traditional opening ceremony until
the flag parade began, and that was when the Second World Kurash
Championships slowly started to descend into a bit of a shambles;
none of the flag bearers new where they were supposed to go. As
they trudged around the mat aimlessly to the tune of the Lone Piper,
a few frantic officials tried desperately to guide them in the right
direction, but they had exactly discussed which was the right direction
and flag bearers were being sent every which way.
Then came the speeches, but it was all too much to bare for the
Iranian flag bearer who struggled with the weight of his pole. For
a hardened wrestler that doesn't suggest greatness, and incidently
he was beaten first fight. One official noticed and was quick to
chastise him for his limp angle. Finally the crowd was treated to
a Kurash display by two old champions. The two men, who looked like
Woody Harelson in forty years time, had shaven heads and long grey
beards, but despite their age they bounded around the mat like youthful
Then came the turn of the real fighters, split into four categories
over three days. First up was the under 73kgs men, then the under
90kgs men and then on the last day came the men's absolute (open)
category and the only women's category, under 63kgs. Hard luck if
that one doesn't suit you really, but it was the first opportunity
for women to fight in Kurash World Championships, it would be a
bit much to expect choice as well.
The previous year had been completely dominated by Uzbek fighters
so to redress the balance, the organisers came up with a novel way
of fixing the draw. Two Uzbeks could compete in every weight category,
as opposed to one for the other countries apart from Turkey who
occasionally benefited from a second, but they fought each other
in the opening bout of the day, every day. As Kurash operates a
straight knockout system without a repechage, that ensured the Uzbeks
could only win one medal in each weight.
As Kurash is a fairly new sport on the world stage, it was little
surprise to see a several international judoka amongst the competitors.
But as Lauren Meece of Cyprus pointed out, this must be the only
tournament where competitors ask each other what sport they come
from. Despite the efforts to even up the odds, Uzbekistan still
dominated the first couple of days.
Britain actually entered a full team, including Sam Delahay from
Bristol who was competing for the second time. On the first day,
Paul Sawyer was soundly beaten in the under 73kgs by a fairly scary-looking
and awkward Irishman, John Dennis. Mahtumkul Mahmudov of Uzbekistan
won the category, but had to beat a couple of well-known judoka
in his last two fights. The experienced Bektas Demirel of Turkey
gave him a tough fight in the semi-final, and with the crowd evenly
split between Turkish and Uzbek fans, it was the only fight that
offered any real atmosphere throughout the day.
Mahmudov's final was against the European Championship bronze medallist
at under 66kgs, Gueorgui Gueorguiev of Bulgaria. Gueorguiev had
endured a tough semi-final just before the final and with only a
short break between the second semi-final and the final (it should
be noted that the Uzbeks always found themselves in the top half
of the draw so they would always get the first semi-final) and he
seemed tired in the final and lost tamely when thrown for Khalol
(Ippon) with Uchi-mata-sukashi.
The second day was fairly successful for Britain with Delahay earning
a bronze medal in the under 90kgs. He ousted opponents from Canada,
the Dominican Republic and India before facing Anton Minarik of
Slovakia in the semi-final, guaranteeing himself a medal. Minarik
did have the better of the fight, but Delahay was still beaten by
some terrible refereeing. (I made it this far without slating the
refereeing, but I can go on no longer.)
The refereeing really was appaling throughout the whole tournament,
both in organisation and quality. On many occasions the refs didn't
have a clue who was supposed to be up next and whether they were
the referee or a corner judge. The scoring was a shambles and the
scores often went to the wrong fighters. Refs are supposed to lift
a different arm for each fighter but few seemed aware of this rule.
It's not just the fighters who were predominantly from a judo background,
so too were the refs. In one final, a referee comically awarded
an "Ippon" rather than calling "Khalol," although to be fair he
did realise his mistake and changed the call while also changing
the arm he raised (the Khalol gesticulation is identical to that
for Ippon) as that too had been wrong.
Anyway, Delahay was twice given Yonbosh (Waza-ari) against him for
throws that in judo would have warranted just a Koka or a Yuko.
But Delahay was still pleased with his medal. Minarik didn't last
long in the final and was promptly thrown for Khalol by Murat Baltaniyazov
of Uzbekistan. A year ago he was the third choice judoka in Uzbekistan
behind Armen Bagdasarov (who has now moved up to under 100kgs) and
Kamol Muradov, but he was still good enough to be World Champion
at his country's national jacket wrestling sport.
The final day had two weight categories fighting, but while the
first two days belonged to Uzbekistan, the host country reigned
supreme on the final day. Ilknur Kobas won the women's category
by barely breaking sweat. She won her first round comfortably and
then threw Britain's Emily Gittens in just 10 seconds with Tsuri-goshi.
In the semi-final she benefited from a walkover and her final opponent
had just had a tough three-minute semi-final. For some reason women
only fight for three minutes in Kurash, compared to the five-minute
Kobas faced Olesya Nazarenko of Turkmenistan who had benefited from
the erratic refereeing to get to the final. She was prone to Tani-otoshi
attacks throughout the day, a move which strictly speaking carries
a score against in Kurash as fighters are not allowed to drop onto
their backs to attack. Well she was finally penalised in the final
when one such attack resulted in a Khalol against her with minimal
impetus from Kobas.
Her victory was followed up with a complete walkover for Selim Tataroglu
in the absolute category. Tataroglu is a double World Championship
medallist in judo from Birmingham last year and the opposition just
wasn't in his class. One unfortunate under 90kgs fighter who was
bravely taking on the big guys had a rib broken by the big Turk
when he threw Douglas De Mello of Brazil who had to be peeled off
the mat afterwards. Tataroglu stormed through every round and didn't
even look remotely interested in his victory.
The one comfort was that he was mobbed by over-eager fans like the
Uzbeks were the previous two days. They practically had to snog
half the males in the crowd after their victories, which did seem
a little over friendly for a tough wrestling sport. Britain's John
Cremin gave a good account of himself and won his first fight before
losing in the quarter-final and just missing out on a medal.
For the organisers the results could not have been any better with
the four gold medals shared equally between Uzbekistan and Turkey.
But the tournament took Kurash several steps backwards after bursting
onto the scene in spectacular fashion last year.
Throughout all three days the International Kurash Association officials
were brilliantly lit up on their table at the front of the stadium,
overlooking the mat. The fighters, however, fought in half shadow/
half dull light and it was weary on the eyes just to watch.
The ultimate aim of the International Kurash Association must be
to replace judo in the Olympic Games. The excitement generated by
the sport last year would have sent warning signs to the IJF. But
this year those fears and concerns were categorically quashed, with
Kurash scoring a massive own goal.
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