Respect is synonymous with judo. The way an athlete conducts themselves before and after a contest speaks volumes about the values they believe in. Winning is not just about medals. As legendary Egyptian judoka Mohamed Ali Rashwan famously said, “We must return to the core values of sport: an athlete must respect his/her opponent.”

For context, let’s go back to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic open weight final, where the heart of sportsmanship beat resoundingly. Gold was well within reach for Rashwan against Yasuhiro Yamashita (JPN) who was nursing a vulnerable right calf. However, instead of exploiting his opponent’s weakness, Rashwan fought honourably and emerged with a silver medal, etching his name into the annals of sporting history through an act of fair play (CLICK HERE).

Coming back to the 2024 grand slam in Baku and it was Arthur Margelidon (CAN) who exhibited class after an intense -73kg bronze medal match. After a fight that resulted in a win against Rashid Mammadaliyev (AZE), the Canadian star was quick to embrace his opponent, fully understanding the pain of losing in front of home fans. He even chose not to celebrate, quietly stepping off of the tatami. When asked about it during the ‘Golden Score’ broadcast by JudoTV, Mareglidon was quick to credit his father for his display. 

“My dad was my first coach. He taught me judo properly. When we grow up, obviously we change coaches but my dad taught me proper judo and respect. I think it’s important. Yes, it’s a sport; we all try to get the same thing. You have to do it with respect. There is no point in being rude or a bully. If you do your thing properly, you can reach anything.”

On day one, it was Christa Deguchi (CAN) who won hearts with her gesture. Nora Gjakova (KOS), who suffered an injury in the semi-final, is likely to have been frustrated to not be able to compete in the final but there was a touching moment during the medal ceremony when Deguchi helped the Olympic champion onto the podium.

Christa Deguchi (CAN)

“I didn’t see the fight (semi-final) but it looked really painful. I think judo is all about helping someone and being strong and nice together. I did what I had to,” the two-time world champion said.

When competing at the highest level, what is often forgotten is that these athletes are humans first. They have emotions and share great relationships with each other. Lubjana Piovesana (AUT), the -63 kg gold medallist in the Azeri capital, summed it up perfectly. Immediately after an epic final against top seed Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (CAN), the two were seen chatting. Her words later on is what defines elite sport and why it brings hope for us all around the world in testing times, “We fight a lot at training camps and she speaks English and we have done a lot of randori together. She is a really nice person and we are quite good friends.” 

This is what judo is about and it was simply a pleasure to see the current elite athletes living up to the standard set by Rashwan.

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