Top judo stories to watch in Rio
With the 2016 Rio Games just days away, here are five stories to keep an eye on when judo competition gets underway.
Two athletes from Congo will compete as refugees
Day 5 (Wednesday, Aug. 10)
Women's 70kg (154 lbs), Men's 90kg (198 lbs)
For the first time ever, the Games will feature a new team composed solely of refugee athletes who have all left their home countries for various reasons. The group, which is officially being called the "Refugee Olympic Team," will compete under the Olympic flag and will receive all the amenities afforded to athletes competing for a country, including the opportunity to march in the Opening Ceremony.
Two judokas will be part of that team. Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika were born in Congo, a country which has been torn apart by war over the years. Both athletes were members of the national judo team but told the Associated Press about harsh conditions that included "stints inside a cell with little food or water for days" if they would fail to win medals at competitions. In 2013, they sought asylum in Brazil, where they currently live, after arriving there for a tournament.
On Day 5 of the Olympics, Misenga will compete in the men's 90kg tournament, and Mabika will compete in the women's 70kg competition.
Kayla Harrison's quest for back-to-back gold
Day 6 (Thursday, Aug. 11)
Women's 78kg (172.5 lbs)
Kayla Harrison made history in 2012 by becoming the first American to ever win Olympic gold in judo. As the No. 1 seed at 78kg (172 lbs), she is expected to make a run at a second straight gold medal.
Standing in Harrison's way could be her longtime rival, Mayra Aguiar of Brazil. The two have met 17 times in their career, often when the stakes seem to be high, and the results have been nearly split down the middle. Harrison has won 9 matches, Aguiar has won 8.
At the London Games, the two judokas faced each other in the semifinals; Harrison won the match en route to taking gold, while Aguiar rebounded to capture bronze. Another potential meeting between the two in Rio will be one of the most anticipated judo matches of this Olympics.
Can anyone dethrone Teddy Riner?
Day 7 (Friday, Aug. 12)
Men's 100+kg (200.5+ lbs)
It has been nearly six full years since French heavyweight Teddy Riner (pictured above) lost a judo match. The reigning Olympic gold medalist and eight-time world champion will enter the Rio Games as a heavy favorite in the 100+kg (220.5+ lbs) weight class.
The other athletes in the field have been training for years not just to make the Olympics, but specifically to beat Riner. Though taking down the 6-foot-8 titan of judo will be a tall task, there are several competitors hopeful that they can be the one to end his winning streak.
After going undefeated for nearly two full years, Japan's Hisayoshi Harasawa had long been viewed as the biggest threat to Riner. But Harasawa's own streak came to an end at the hands of Romania's Daniel Natea, another possible challenger, at the IJF World Masters tournament in May. Neither Harasawa nor Natea has fought Riner yet, adding intrigue to potential showdowns in Rio.
Will Japan bounce back from 2012 disappointment?
Days 1-7 (Aug. 6-12)
As the birthplace of judo, Japan takes great pride in the sport. The country has by far the most all-time Olympic gold medals (36) and total medals (72) in judo.
At the 2012 Games, the Land of the Rising Sun pulled in seven of a possible 14 medals, tied for best of any country, but only earned one gold medal, and the men failed to win an Olympic title for the first time ever. The results left the country disappointed, especially after the team had won a combined 12 gold medals at the previous two Olympics.
With newer powers like Mongolia, Russia, Brazil and France emerging, Japan's dominant grasp on judo is slipping. This year's team hoping to reverse the tide includes Kaori Matsumoto, the reigning Olympic champion in women's 57kg, and Mashu Baker, the world No. 1 in men's 90kg.
How many medals will host nation Brazil get?
Days 1-7 (Aug. 6-12)
Olympic host country Brazil will be one of three nations with a competitor in all 14 weight classes and will have a strong team, particularly on the women's side where the squad is identical to 2012. The Brazilian Judo Confederation has stated that their goal is to improve, either quantitatively or qualitatively, on their medal haul (one gold, three bronzes) from the London Games. Among their top hopes are reigning Olympic champion Sarah Menezes (women's 48kg) and 2012 bronze medalist Mayra Aguiar (78kg).