No less than 301 athletes were registered for this first day of competitions. A boiling hot atmosphere inside the competition venue tent with the bleachers filled to the top seating a boisterous crowd, the competition started on an excellent note from the very first throw marking an ippon.
“This is judo close to my heart,” says Vladimir Barta, IJF Head Sport Director. “This championship truly embodies ‘Judo for life’. The enthusiasm and the respect these older judokas have for their opponents is contagious. Most of them care more for their opponents when throwing them than scoring an ippon. It’s a great atmosphere. I applaud them.”
Siblings bonding on the tatami
For the siblings Lode and Stefaan Laats, this event is also a great moment to bond. Both hail from a renown Belgian judo family together with their older brothers Philip and Johan Laats. “Our two older brothers are the better judokas of the family,” Stefaan explains. Indeed, in the nineties Johan was prominently on the podium, winning the European and Vice-World title in the pinnacle of his career. Philip, the oldest was a double bronze medalist at the European championships and collected three world titles on the military world judo circuit. He also crowned himself twelve times Belgian national champion. The younger siblings Lode and Stefaan were mainly active collecting medals on the national circuit.
Stefaan came into action on the first day of the Veteran Worlds. “It’s been a while since I did some competition, so I was extremely nervous starting my first round here,” he commented. After starting the tournament on a high note with a victory, he lost his second bout sending him to repechage where he won his first but lost his second bout. “I have mixed feelings about my performance,” he commented. “But then it’s been quite a while since I competed. Maybe I should have done some local tournaments prior to coming here.” His brother Lode was boosting for him from the bleachers. He will mount the tatami on 12 October. “I think he’s pretty ballsy doing this,” Lode says. “I have lot of respect for my brother making a comeback like this.”
“It’s great to be back in competition, but sometimes I forget that my body is older now,” Stefaan jokes. “I have to learn to listen more to my body now. Nevertheless, being here at the Veteran Worlds together with my brother Lode gives me a great feeling. It’s fantastic to share your passion with your brother, even now when we are older. Judo really runs in our family.”
In the M6 -81kg category the spectators witnessed a ‘Scandinavian Clash’ between Torben Hersborg from Denmark and Kenneth Larsson from Sweden. “It was very hot today. This bout was the one leading to the bronze medal round, so it was a very important one for both of us. And I think we both gave our outmost,” said Kenneth. “It was a very close combat. There was little difference, but finally Sweden took advantage of the little dance on the tatami,” he jokes. “I didn’t want to point it out to him that this was the battle of the Scandinavians,” Torben laughs. “Because I was afraid, I would have stirred him up to do even better.” Both recently participated at the European Championship for Veterans. “I like it here better. Moreover, I like the heat,” says Torben. “Having the event in a big tent I think is a splendid idea. The circulation of fresh air I like.”The Danish judoka has no hard feelings losing from his Swedish opponent. “Kenneth got silver at the European championship. He competed well there and now here. I’m not crying for losing against a worthy opponent.”
“Judo is in my blood; I just love the sport. I’ve been practicing judo since I was a kid. It’s a perfect way to exercise,” says the Swede who is a real estate consultant in his professional life. “When I step on the tatami for training, I forget about everything else. After a hiatus I’ve been back doing judo for ten years now. And I honestly have to say it has been the happiest period in my life because I find the balance between my private and professional life and also my training.” Torben, who is an osteopath, agrees. “I fix judokas,” he jokes. “But, it’s true. Judo gives you something other sports don’t. When you are on the mat you have to completely focus on what you got in your hands. Otherwise you end up on the floor. At the same time when you get thrown, you get up again. That’s what you learn from the very beginning. You have to get up and get stronger,” Torben ends.
Dutch judoka Jos Wennekers is a happy man. He took gold in the category M9/-81kg. “I came prepared,” says the veteran. “Being patient in every bout and striking at the right moment. I succeeded to use this tactic in all my bouts, and it worked. Age doesn’t really matter,” the 70-year old farmer says. “Keep being active and mobile. Mobile judo with our age does the trick. I practice judo twice a week, but as a farmer I’m still busy every day,” says the happy World Champion.
Denis Weisser, Chairman of the Veterans Commission, is satisfied with this first day of competitions. “We witnessed a very good tournament today resulting in a splendid start of this World Championship. On all five mats the organization went swiftly. The organizing committee is well organized, and we saw some fine judo and great friendship on the tatami today here in Marrakech. I’m confident the next few days will be similar.”
RESULTS DAY 1
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