Munich 1972, +93kg: Willem Ruska (NED)

The second time judo was featured in the Olympics was not at the 1968 Mexico City Games, but eight years later in the 1972 Munich Games. Like many others in the judo world, then-IJF President Charles Palmer was shocked when he first found out, in 1966, that judo had not been included in the Mexico City Games. He immediately petitioned hard for judo’s inclusion but it was already too late. The program had been set. He did, however, manage to get judo back into the Games for the 1972 Olympics. And this time, it was not as an optional sport but a permanent one.

In Munich, the weight categories had increased to six: -63kg, -70kg, -80kg, -93kg, +93kg and Open; with the preliminary rounds being 6 minutes long, semifinals 8 minutes and finals 10 minutes.

The mats were no longer on raised platforms but instead had a thin red line around them that acted as borders. The scores were still only ippon and waza-ari (it would take one more Olympic cycle before yuko and koka would be added). There was no more jogai rule whereby if a throw landed outside the contest area, it wouldn’t count. Now, if it started inside but landed outside, it would count.

The world of judo had also changed. More players, from more countries, had emerged onto the scene. And there were many new faces too. Anton Geesink, the giant Dutchman whom the Japanese feared, had by then retired. But he had been succeeded by another massive Dutchman Willem Ruska, who perhaps displayed less flair but was probably more powerful than Geesink. Ruska had decided to compete in both the heavyweight division and the Open, which raised the tantalizing prospects of two judo gold medals in the same Olympics.

Unlike Geesink, who had a more orthodox style of gripping, Ruska preferred to adopt a double-lapel grip from which he could launch into harai-goshi, his favorite technique. Sometimes from that same grip, he could also switch to osoto-gari, to throw to the back or tai-otoshi, to throw to the front.

As expected, Ruska whizzed through his first two matches, against Tijini Ben Kassou of Morocco and Douglas Nelson of the USA, throwing both of them for ippon. This brought him up against Japan’s Motoki Nishimura in the semifinals.

Nishimura was not a particularly distinguished player. His biggest success prior to the Olympics was his win in that year’s Asian Championships. However, in Munich he did give Ruska a really tough fight. Their semifinal went to full time with neither men able to throw the other. In the end Ruska won by a decision.

In the final, Ruska was not only fighting a capable opponent but the home crowd as well. Klaus Glahn of West Germany was a bronze medalist from the Tokyo Olympics and he had won the silver medal at three successive World Championships (1967, 1969 and 1971) leading up to the Munich Games. Glahn was a very seasoned fighter but Ruska was too powerful. In just under two minutes, Ruska smashed him to the ground with a dynamic harai-goshi for ippon.

(I owe a debt of gratitude to Nicolas Soames, whose account of the Olympics was great research material for this series.)