How Van De Walle won his Olympic gold

A triumphant Van De Walle defeats his rival and home favorite, Tengiz Khubuluri to become Olympic Champion.


Going into the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, there were two favorites in the -95kg division. The most obvious one was the Soviet Union’s Tengiz Khubuluri, who was not only the reigning World and European Champion but who was also fighting on home ground.

The other was France’s 1975 World Champion Jean-Luc Rouge. Since 1976, he had fought in either the +95kg or Open divisions but for Moscow, Rouge had dropped down to -95kg. Although it had been five years since he won his world title, the Frenchman had been in fine form, winning the 1979 European Championships and coming in second at the 1979 World Championships.

The Japanese were not in Moscow due to the US-led boycott of the Moscow Games but in the -95kg division, it was inconsequential as Japan’s top player at the time, Hiraoki Ishikawa, was not a major contender.

Ishikawa had been beaten by Belgium’s Robert Van De Walle in the first round of 1979 World Championships. As it turned out, it was also Van De Walle who triumphed in Moscow, defeating both the Soviet and French favorites.

Van De Walle had a bit of difficulty with his first opponent, Istvan Szepesi (HUN) and got through to the next round with just a koka. His second fight however, was a breeze and he defeated Robert Chizooma (ZAM) by ippon.

This brought him up against Rouge. The two had never fought before and theirs was a tough match. There was no score by either player when with just eight seconds to go in the match, Van De Walle came in with morote-gari to throw the Frenchman for yuko. Rouge left the mat in tears, knowing full well that this would be his last international competition.

With Olympic gold in his sights, Van De Walle would not be stopped and defeated Henk Numan (NED) with ippon to earn his place in the final.

Predictably, it was Khubuluri whom he would have to fight to become Olympic champion. It would seem that the Soviet player had the psychological advantage. He had beaten Van De Walle in both the 1979 Europeans and the 1979 World’s.

They had also fought way back in the final of the 1976 European Championships final. There, it was also Khubuluri who had triumphed. But in the Olympic final, Van De Walle was a man possessed, pulling his rival’s head down and attacking with non-stop legs grabs and hip attacks.

Khubuluri proved too difficult to throw though. In the end, it was a counter that decided his fate. When Khubuluri attempted an osoto-gari at the edge of the mat, Van De Walle picked him up with te-guruma. However, instead of wheeling him over, Van De Walle extended his left leg to take Khubuluri down with a massive tani-otoshi.

The Soviet champion must have felt he had truly fallen down a valley. An ippon was given although that was subsequently changed to waza-ari. It didn’t matter though as Van De Walle managed to maintain his lead until the match was over. He had beaten the home favorite and was Olympic Champion.

See Van De Walle throw Khubuluri with a massive tani-otoshi.