Edition No. 24. Autumn, 2000. Today is

Antalya, Turkey

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 rag-dolls.

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 men's bouts.

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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