Fabio Basile has not shone in the most recent events but let’s never forget that to become Olympic champion, there must have been a metamorphosis, whether fast or more gradual, one which enables a judoka to pass into a very special group of elite judoka who never lose the internal understanding of that judo.

Maruyama is a perfectionist, a double world champion who accumulates world championship finals with mastery, never slowing his effort, always seeking ippon.

In Paris, in the first round at -66 kg, Maruyama and Basile were set to meet. As they stepped forward to the edge of the tatami the line of photographers thickened and the crowd quietened momentarily. What a first round contest, for the athletes but also for the crowd.

We know that to throw, first a judoka must grip. Maruyama is a master of the mid-lapel, on the left side of course, but Basile is awake and aware and had his strategy locked in, to stop that left hand at all costs. He understands every element of the rules and was prepared to employ every tactic necessary to avoid being thrown with the traditional left-handed uchi-mata; he knew how to stop it and he did so for more than 3 minutes.

Maruyama was the first to earn a shido, while Basile attacked at a much higher rate, a passivity warning. We know he is not passive but he wants his grip and to use it well to throw. It wasn’t until just outside the last minute that he began to solve Basile's blockade and manage to find the lapel. Basile felt it and had no choice but to escape at the edge. He therefore earned his own shido but a welcome one as it was a better choice than being thrown.

With less than a minute to go Maruyama found the lapel again and launched the uchi-mata, placing a waza-ari on his side of the scoreboard. Basile knew it was coming, defended well and almost forced the landing to the front, almost. The score, though, is decisive. It forces change and without an equaliser Basile would have been out and so the remaining seconds of the contest opened up, far less strategic, less capped, more urgent. A flurry of movement on the ground left an opening and with 1 single second left on the clock, Maruyama found the Italian’s arm and applied a reverse juji-gatame for ippon.

The double world champion moved forward, the Olympic champion is out. It was an interesting study and a testament to the everlasting judo intelligence of the greatest champions.

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