Munich 1972, Open: Willem Ruska (NED)

There were three main contenders in the Open weight division: Willem Ruska of the Netherlands, Vitaly Kuznetsov of the Soviet Union and Masatoshi Shinomaki from Japan.

On paper, the top favorite was Ruska, for he had won the heavyweight division on Day One. But Shinomaki was a double World Champion in the Open weight division. In 1969, he defeated Ruska in the World Championship final. And in 1971, he defeated Kuznetsov. So, Japan was definitely in the running for the Open weight gold.

Ruska and Kuznetsov were both in the same pool and the unthinkable happened. The Russian surprised Ruska with a wrestling-style pick-up and smashed him to the mat. The other big upset was when West Germany’s Klaus Glahn defeated Shinomaki.

Fortunately for Ruska, the unique repechage system back then made it possible for him to claw his way into the final, and he did just that by defeating Chiaki Ishii of Brazil, West Germany’s Glahn and Jean-Claude Brondani of France. This allowed him to face Kuznetsov once again, this time for gold.

Having gotten thrown with a pick-up technique earlier, Ruska didn’t take any chances. He knocked the Russian down with an ashi-guruma and immediately clamped on a yoko-shiho-gatame. With the second gold medal in sight, there was no way Ruska was going to let go. His grip was so tight, Kuznetsov didn’t even put much of a struggle.

And with that, Ruska superseded his countryman, the legendary Anton Geesink, by becoming the first judo player in history to win two Olympic gold medals. After the Olympics, Ruska announced his retirement. He had won everything worth winning in judo: Two Olympic golds, two World Championships golds, and seven European Championships golds.