| The second
day of the European Championships in Maribor, Slovenia promised much with
fields litered with current Olympic and World champions. There were no fewer
than three of each and both the men's under 73kg and under 90kg categories
contained both champions.
But this was a day of upsets and all six of these so called world-class stars
fell at an early hurdle. In the under 73kg, Italy's Guiseppe Maddaloni, Olympic
champion, made it as far as the quarter-finals - he went further than any
other global champion. The world champion, Vitali Makarov of Russia, fell
at the second hurdle to a little-known Georgian, David Kevhishvili.
The Georgian made it all the way to the final after that despite being cricket-scored
in his semi-final against the reigning European champion, Gennady Belodid
of Ukraine. Belodid scored waza-ari early on and then three times pulled out
big throws that on each occasion tempted the referee into awarding a second,
and decisive, waza-ari. But on each occasion as his arm hovered at shoulder
height, it settled at 45 degrees from his hip.
- Anatoly LARYUKOV (BLR) vs. David KEVKHISHVILI (GEO) at
- 73 Kg)
was in danger of becoming dizzy from the amount of time he spent being turned
upside down and dropped on his side, but suddenly, out of nowhere he produced
a winning throw. With a huge pick-up, similar to the one that accounted for
Makarov, Kevhishvili booked the most unlikely place in the final.
There he faced Anatoly Laryukov of Belarus who had ousted Maddaloni's conqueror,
Vesvelods Zelonij of Latvia. Again the diminutive Georgian, a dead-ringer
for recently-retired Georgi Vazagashvili, came under early pressure. But this
time he could not ride the storm and after being thrown for waza-ari with
kosoto-gari, he was pinned for ippon. Laryukov was champion of Europe.
Both Maddaloni and Makarov had the chance to atone for their early mishaps
in the repechage. But while the Italian made the most of a dubious ippon award
against Belodid to take the bronze, Makarov fell in his first repechage contest
against Christos Christodoulos of Cyprus. There surely cannot be another Cypriot
out there who has beaten the reigning world champion, and definitely not by
ippon with an exquisite Kata-guruma. He went no further but that victory will
probably be enough to keep him happy for many a year. As it was, Zelonij claimed
the other bronze medal at the expense of Israel's Yoel Razbozov.
(Left - Valentyn GREKOV (UKR) vs. Siarhei KUKHARENKA (BLR)
at - 90 Kg)
The under 90kg category
saw a similar pattern for the top boys. Olympic champion, Mark Huizinga of
the Netherlands battled past two stern challenges before coming up against
the latest in an ever-expanding line of brilliant Ukrainians. Valentin Grekov
threw the 'master' for ippon with Uchi-mata.
Meanwhile, France's World champion, Frederic Demontfaucon, was toppled by
Daniel Hadfi of Hungary in his first contest. Hadfi was never likely to go
any further and the Frenchman was out. Huizinga would get a run in the repechage,
Grekov proved to be the revelation of the tournament as he made it through
to the final with an even better Uchi-mata on Georgia's Zurab Zviadauri. In
the final he faced Siarhei Kukharenko of Belarus who scored ippon in his semi-final
against Rasul Salimov of Azerbaijan in just 33 seconds. And that after accounting
for Hadfi with a huge Osoto-makikomi.
It really was a battle of the Eastern Europeans in the men's divisions and
Ukraine got the better of Belarus in the final. Grekov becoming European champion
with Ura-nage for ippon.
Huizinga came back to beat Salimov for bronze, and for once that was fairly
predictable. Salimov seems to have a mental block when it comes to Huizinga
and doesn't even seem to consider victory as a possibility. Zviadauri added
another medal for Georgia with a sweet Uchi-mata for ippon against Britain's
Winston Gordon, who had looked explosive throughout the day.
- Irakli UZNADZE (TUR) vs. Aleksei BUDOLIN (EST) at - 81
under 81kg was the one category on the day lacking either of the global champs.
But there was the rfeigning European champion and World and Olympic medallist,
Alexsei Budolin of Estonia to entertain the crowds.
Budolin made comfortable progress to the semi-final where he became embroiled
in the most controversial fight of the day - on a day that had a greater number
of controversies than its fair share. Budolin faced Roberto Meloni of Italy,
who was in wonderful form.
The two went at it hammer and tong but the Italian entered the last minute
with his nose in front by yuko. One ippon had already been awarded and then
overruleed by the referees table. Time and again the Estonians appealed for
Meloni to be penalised for stepping off the mat or for passivity, but time
and again those appeals fell on deaf ears. With boos reverberating around
the stadium, Budolin launched one last desperate attack with less than a second
left on the clock. He dropped under Meloni with tomoe-nage and as the Italian's
back was about to hit the mat, he began to twist and spin out of it.
The whole move happened so fast that to the naked eye it was impossible to
tell whether the Italian'a back had hit the mat before he spun. Whichever,
the referee indicated ippon to Budolin. The Italians went wild. Meloni's father,
high up in the stands, completely lost the plot. First he launched his bum-bag
at the referee. It landed inches short, so he tried his luck with his heavy
silver watch. Such was his agitation that this effort missed by a mile - but
the Latin temperament came out to graze with a vengence.
The referee would not be swayed and Budloin was in the final. Meloni would
have more controversy in his bronze fight against Nuno Delgado of Portugal.
But this time, he would be the beneficiary. He won by keikoku to chui and
it was the turn of Delgado's Portuguese coach to lose his rag at the officials.
Somewhere along the line, Meloni probably deserved his medal, but Delgado
His earlier conqueror, Irakli Uznadze of Turkey, who tossed the Portuguese
fighter up in the ar with a beautiful Uchi-mata, would come out on top. In
yet another bizarre twist, Budolin did not appear for the final, and the Turk
was crowned champ. Somewhat less dramatic was Poland's Robert Kraxczyk's victory
over Lacha Pipia of Russia for the other bronze.
- Cinzia CAVAZZUTI (ITA) vs. Yvonne BÖNISCH (GER) at
could match the men for controversy, but the under 57kg and under 63kg categories
had their fair share of drama. Isabel Fernandez, Spain's Olympic champion
at under 57kg, was thrown for ippon by the 2000 European Champion, Barbara
Harel of France. And Belgium's under 63kg World champion, Gella Vandecaveye,
lasted about 15 seconds against Ioulia Kouzina of Russia, before being bowled
over with Kata-guruma for ippon.
Vadecaveye came back to win bronze at the expense of the home fighter, Urska
Zolnir. Vandecaveye actually trailed by waza-ari with less than a minute to
go, but the Belgium's unparralled groundword saw her safely through to a podium
finish. She, however, was clearly disappointed at failing to make it seven
consecutive European titles.
Succeeding her was an unlikely heroine. France's Lucie Decosse beat Britain's
Karen Roberts in the final, although both could count themsleves a little
fortunate just to be competing. Decosse is clearly not France's number one
- that is a position occupied by Olympic champion, Severine Vandenhende. And
Roberts came only third in the British championships last year, but was selected
on her better record in A tournaments than her would-be successors.
Whatever their merits of inclusion, they made it to the final. Decosse beat
Vandecaveye's conqueror in the semi-final, and then there was even more heartache
for Kouzina as she was pipped for bronze by Claudia Heill of Austria.
Just as Vandecaveye
overcame disappointment to win bronze, so to did Fernandez in the
under 57kg. She beat Russia's Tatiana Chouchakova with a brilliant
Te-guruma - a rare occasion when Fernandez earned her medal rather
than stealing it.
That category was won, touchingly, by Italy's Cinzia Cavazutti.
She was the most aggrieved fighter at the Sydney Olympics after
being robbed of a medal by 'home-town' refereeing. But here she
took the giant leap onto the top tier of the podium with an excellent
victory aginst the surprise package of the women's categories, Germany's
Yvonne Boenisch. The last bronze went to Deborah Gravenstijn of
» day three