Edition No. 23. Summer, 2000. Today is
Preview to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia
Men - 60kg, 66kg, 73kg
Women - 48kg, 52kg, 57kg

By: Barnaby Chesterman

Men -60kg

Three different Japanese men won European 'A' tournaments this year, a fourth won a silver and a fifth won the Asian Championships (a sixth even beat John Buchanan in the final of the British Open but we won't dwell on that). To suggest that Japan are well endowed at -60kg would be an understatement. After Kazuhiko Tokuno managed only silver at last year's World Championships he has been replaced by the reigning Olympic and former World champion, Tadahiro Nomura. The Japanese coach says the two are practically neck-and-neck but Nomura has just had the edge this year. Nomura will start favourite and should retain his title. World champion, Manuolo Poulot of Cuba will be his closest adversary but has already lost to him in Paris. Of the European contingent, Oscar Penas of Spain was in good form at the beginning of the year and is a good bet for a medal. Eric Despezelle of France surprised even his own coaches by taking silver at the Europeans in Poland and at the rate he is improving this year he could be a real force in September. With fifth places from the World and European Championships, John Buchanan is overdue a medal. He seems to rise to the big occasion and I have a sneaky feeling the Olympics could be his ideal platform.

Women -48kg

The brilliant four times World champion, Ryoko Tamura of Japan is the overwhelming favourite to finally land Olympic gold to her trophy cabinet after silvers in the last two Games. Amarilis Savon of Cuba is probably the only one who has a realistic hope of beating Tamura. So often in the past she has trailed in the diminutive Japanese's wake and has silver from the last two World Championships and bronze from the last two Olympics. Savon, like most of the Cuban women, has had an outstanding season in the European 'A' tournaments. Four gold medals, a silver and a bronze from six outings is a record matched only by her team-mate, Legna Verdecia at -52kg. Savon would be a worthy winner but her victories against Tamura are rare. The best of the rest is Atsuko Nagai but as she is Tamura's understudy she won't be competing at the Games. The Koreans and Chinese often spring a surprise in these weights and would be good bets for a medal. The South Korean, Sung-Ja Park, had a poor Asian championships but the North Korean, Hyon Hyang Cha or the Chinese entry could cause an upset. China will probably plump for Lihong Huang as she finished 7th at last year's Worlds although Shunxian Zhao beat Savon in Munich and if she fights she will be a danger. The best European hope is Sarah Nichilo-Rosso of France. This season she has developed a habit of losing concentration in vital contests and losing. In Paris she was a second away from beating Cha but managed to get pinned for ippon and in the Europeans she was thrown for ippon by the Russian, Lioubov Brouletova, when it looked like she would stroll to victory. After a disappointing Europeans, Vicki Dunn would do well to emulate her 7th place finish at the World's.

Men -66kg

This is undoubtedly one of the hardest weight categories. Europe is brimming with outstanding -66kg fighters but Asia and South America are also blessed with much talent in this division. Yukimasa Nakamura of Japan will be looking to go one better than four years ago when he lost the final against Udo Quellmalz. Nakamura also proved at the Asian Championships that he was back to his best. He managed only third in his only European 'A' tournament outing, though, while two of his countrymen, Tomoo Torii and Koji Komuro, won golds. Nakamura will be a danger but there are many other pretenders to the crown. I fancy the dynamic Cuban, Yordanis Arencibia, to take the title. He was in scintillating form in Paris and his Koga-style sode-tsurikomi-goshi is devastating. Arencibia won two 'A' tournaments this year and also took a bronze and a fifth, when he lost to James Warren in the semi-final in Rome. At his best I think he will be too dynamic for the rest but in truth just about every fighter at the Games in -66kg could win. Although Patrick Van Kalken of the Netherlands won the Europeans in May he was somewhat fortunate to beat both Gueorgui Gueourguiev of Bulgaria and Victor Bivol of Moldova. Those two would be my favourites out of the Europeans as they were fantastic in Wroclaw. The Russian, Islam Matsiev was the top man in the 'A' tournaments this year with three victories but was soundly beaten by both Bivol and Gueorguiev in the Europeans. He will still be amongst the favourites, though. Then there are still the World Championship finalists from last year, Larbi Benboudaoud of France and Huseyin Ozkan of Turkey. Neither lasted long in Wroclaw but as the top two last year they cannot be ignored. Whoever the Koreans field will be a major threat as they have four strong fighters at this weight. The Mongolian, Purvedor Nyamlkhagva, and the Uzbek, Mansur Jumaev, are good fighters, as is the Iranian, Arash Mir Esmaeli. I fancy the 1996 bronze medallist, Henrique Guimaraes of Brazil, to figure strongly. He won the Pan-American Championships last year and is returning to form. He also has never lost to Benboudaoud and will feel comfortable in the Southern hemisphere environment. David Somerville proved in Rome that on his day he can win the top events but his form throughout the rest of the season did not cause shockwaves through the division. The Olympics is about one day, though, not about consistency over time. It is an incredibly tough category but Somerville has as good a chance as any.

Women -52kg

Legna Verdecia of Cuba is my favourite after an excellent 'A' tournament season. Like Savon she won four gold medals, a silver and a bronze and a victory in Sydney would make up for being robbed at last year's Worlds. Like Savon, Verdecia has also managed only bronze at the Olympics but this year should be hers. The surprise gold medallist at -48kg in Atlanta, Sun Hui Kye of North Korea, will be the major threat and is still one of the youngest fighters on the circuit. She has silver and bronze medals from the World Championships at the higher weight but proved she can win at -52kg by taking the gold at last year's Asian Championships. She also won in Prague this year and at her best can beat anyone. World Champion, Noriko Narasaki of Japan, will be looking to add the Olympic title to the gold she won in Birmingham. To be the number one Japanese fighter ahead of Yuko Isozaki is in itself impressive so Narasaki will be expected to win. The reigning champion from Atlanta, Marie-Claire Restoux of France, has lost her place to the European champion, Laetitia Tignola. Restoux would have been among the favourites but despite winning bronze in Birmingham she was outperformed by Tignola in this year's 'A' tournaments. Tignola probably lacks the experience to take the title but she has the talent. Yuxiang Liu of China and Hye-Sook Kim of Korea are likely to feature in the latter stages, particularly the Chinese who beat Verdecia in the final in Paris. Then there is Debbie Allan who showed her class in winning the British Open at -57kg in her first competition since the Worlds. Allan is definitely one of the top fighters in the world but has been injured for six months. It could work in her favour if she's fresh in Sydney but considering the competition a medal of any colour would be a good result.

Men -73kg

All eyes will be on the American World champion, Jimmy Pedro who looked a class act last year. Pedro had all the skill and experience necessary to overcome the top opponents last year despite not scoring more than yuko from the quarter-finals onwards. He will be the man to beat and should start as favourite. Reigning Olympic and former World champion, Kenzo Nakamura of Japan, was back to his best in winning the Asian Championships. His ne-waza transference was particularly impressive and if given the time in Sydney he will surely be in with a good chance. Not being seeded could also pit him against some of the other favourites early on so expect some fireworks right from the off. The combative Georgian, George Revazichvili, always sticks around until the latter stages so expect him to be among the medals once again. The Frenchman, Ferrid Kheder, has an ugly but effective style and is difficult to beat. He won two 'A' tournaments this year so could be a surprise in Sydney. The classy Brazilian, Sebastian Pereira, came third in Birmingham and has lovely technique. He would be a popular winner among purists. Andrei Shturbabin of Uzbekistan only lost to Nakamura at the Asian Championships and is likely to figure late on. My favourite is Vitali Makarov of Russia. He ran Pedro close last year and looked the class act at the Europeans in May before being spectacularly thrown for ippon in the final. He has an excellent left uchi-mata and has an air of authority when he fights. His conqueror in the European final, Michel Almeida of Portugal has excellent throwing ability and also took gold in Rome. He was a little fortunate at the Europeans, though, as he came within a whisker of being eliminated by Lee Burbridge. Almeida is in form and seems to have the knack of winning. Look out also for the rapidly improving Croatian European Junior champion, Marko Sentic. I have a feeling he might just go home with a gong.

Women -57kg

I see this as a straight fight between two fighters. World and Olympic champion, Driulis Gonzalez of Cuba must be the favourite. She won three 'A' tournaments this year and also added bronze in Paris. She looked unstoppable in Birmingham last year and was a convincing winner against Isabel Fernandez of Spain in the final. There is a new kid on the block, though, with a perfect record this season. Since stepping down from -63kg Cheryle Peel has been unbeatable. Three 'A' tournaments, three gold medals, but she is yet to face Gonzalez or Fernandez. Even so I fancy Peel to win in Sydney. She dominates opponents at this weight category and no-one has got near her this year. She is Britain's best chance of Olympic gold in judo. Fernandez has developed a nasty habit of losing decisions this year. Her scrapping style has not won the judges over recently and I don't think she is the same fighter she was a year ago. Pernilla Andersson of Sweden keeps improving and after finishing 5th in Birmingham and 2nd at the Europeans she looks one of the best around at the moment. The best bet for a home (Australian) medal is Maria Pekli. She took silvers in two 'A' tournaments this year and even inflicted defeat on Fernandez (by decision) in Rotterdam. On home ground and with a good draw I think she is a good bet for a medal. European champion, Barbara Harel of France could sneak a medal and has a good uchi-mata. The experienced Jessica Gal of the Netherlands is still performing well at the top level but unlikely to win a medal in Sydney. Under 57kg is also a weak category for the Asians and I don't expect any of them to finish on the podium. Kie Kusakabe of Japan is the Asian Champion and the best bet but a top eight place may be her limit.


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1996 Atlanta
Olympic Games



Sun-Hi Kye (KOR)

Marie-Claire Restoux (FRA)

Driulis Gonzalez (CUB)

Yuko Emoto (JPN)

Min-Sun Cho (KOR)

Ulla Werbrouck (BEL)

Fuming Sun (CHN)


Tadahiro Nomura (JPN)

Udo Quellmalz (GER)

Kenzo Nakamura (JPN)

Djamel Bouras (FRA)

Jeon Ki Young (KOR)

Pawel Mastula (POL)

David Douillet (FRA)

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