Montreal 1976, +93kg: Sergei Novikov (URS)

The Japanese did not do so well in the 1972 Munich Olympics, winning only three out of six gold medals. For any other country, winning 50% of the medals on offer would be considered a huge success but not so for the Japanese.

The national team made up for it the following year at the 1973 Lausanne World Championships, where Japan won gold in all six categories. Japan didn’t do quite as well in the 1975 Vienna World Championships, although four out of six gold medals is still a good haul.

There wasn’t an expectation that Japan would win every weight class in Montreal, but there certainly was an expectation that they would improve upon their performance in Munich. Japan went to Montreal brimming with confidence.

The absence of a seeding system back then meant who top players would face in the first round was based purely on the luck of the draw. Sometimes the top players would find themselves facing each other early on in the contest. And that’s exactly what happened in the heavyweight division.

At the 1975 Vienna World Championships, the final of the heavyweight division was fought by Japan’s Sumio Endo and the Soviet Union’s Sergei Novikov. The Japanese was the champion there and as such, went into the Montreal Olympics as the heavyweight favorite.

Endo’s main opposition in Montreal was bound to be Novikov. As it turned out, they did have a rematch but as luck would have it, they were drawn together in the first round! What should have been an exciting match worthy of the final, turned out to be a rather boring affair, as both players were wary of the other. In the end, Novikov got a decision win.

Novikov must have been relieved that he got Endo out of the way so early on but that didn’t mean it was smooth sailing for him after that. His next opponent, Pak Jong-gil of North Korea, in particular, proved to be a difficult opponent to handle. Pak’s over 2-metre frame made it hard for Novikov to throw him with his favorite osoto-gari. In the end, Novikov managed to scrape through with the smallest of scores, a koka for an ura-nage. After that, Novikov powered his way through to the final, defeating Radomir Kovacevic of Yugoslavia and Keith Remfry of Breat Britain.

His opponent in the final was the capable German player, Gunther Neureuther. If the spectators were disappointed with the lack of big throws from Novikov thus far, they would not be disappointed with the final.

The match began with some power-gripping by both players. Neureuther tried to get a high grip while Novikov preferred to go for a less traditional double-lapel grip, with his right hand holding mid-lapel and his left hand around the armpit area. There was much heavy-gripping going on but not much by way of attacks. This prompted the referee to give each of them a penalty for passivity.

Neureuther tried a half-hearted sasae-tsurikomi-ashi. Novikov responded with a massive osoto-gari that had the German flying over and landing flat on his back. Novikov immediately clamped on an osaekomi in case the ippon would get changed to waza-ari. But there was no chance of that happening. The throw was that big. There was thunderous applause throughout the stadium. Novikov had given the crowd the kind of Olympic final they wanted to see.