LONDON (Reuters) - Georgia’s Lasha Shavdatuashvili, the youngest competitor in the event, grabbed Olympic gold in the men’s -66kg judo category on Sunday in a tournament spiced with shock results and an extraordinary refereeing volte-face.
The unheralded 20-year-old, the world number 32, defeated Hungary’s Miklos Ungvari, 31, in the final to send a small but incredibly noisy group of fans from his homeland wild as he secured Georgia’s third ever judo gold.
“I‘m happy to continue the Olympic gold medal list from Georgia and of course this medal belongs not only to the athlete but to the country,” said the delighted winner, grinning broadly throughout a later press conference.
His success was overshadowed though by bizarre and chaotic scenes which followed the quarter-final clash between Japan’s Masashi Ebinuma, the world champion, and South Korea’s Cho Jun-Ho.
After the match finished scoreless following extra time, it was left to the referee and two judges to call the result and they duly raised their blue flags to indicate Cho had won by showing the more attacking intent.
The crowd at London’s ExCel Centre, which included a large number of Japanese, erupted in a cacophony of boos and jeers with the disgusted Japanese coach looking utterly flabbergasted.
The reaction clearly had an impact as the startled judges decided to refer their verdict to a reviewing jury which took the unprecedented step of overturning the result.
“I thought I was going to lose,” Ebinuma told reporters later, adding he thought the support from the spectators had played a role. “I‘m feeling a bit bad for the Korean.”
Cho, who had looked perplexed at events but left the mat without any dissent, refused to criticize the referees. Both men went on to earn bronze medals, helping to alleviate any hard feelings
“I thought I had won,” Cho said. “We both won bronze medals so I‘m very happy.”
The governing International Judo Federation, which confirmed a flag decision had never been overturned before, said they wanted to ensure the right man won.
Officials are desperate to avoid any repeat of the furor which followed controversial refereeing decisions such as in the 2000 Olympic heavyweight final in Sydney when French judoka David Douillet took gold from Japan’s Shinichi Shinohara amid angry protests from the Japanese camp.
It was an eventful day on the mat as well as the youthful Shavdatuashvili powered to victory as older and higher ranked judokas crashed out well before the final stages.
The raucous crowd went wild when Britain’s Colin Oates, 29, dispatched Mongolia’s Tsagaanbaatar Khashbaatar, the world number two and bronze medalist in Beijing, in the last 16.
However, Oates could not repeat that success, losing out to Shavdatuashvili, who then reached the final by beating Ebinuma by hurling him to the ground for an automatic winning ippon half way through their encounter.
Ebinuma took bronze by beating Poland’s Pawel Zagrodnik, 24, with an ippon, and enjoying another bit of luck when an ippon awarded against him was overturned.
Cho also grabbed bronze but this time being on the right side of the referees’ decision after his match with Spain’s Sugoi Uriarte had ended all square.
Editing by Matt Falloon and Jason Neely