A judo judge waves a blue flag to award victory to South Korea's Cho Jun-Ho Sunday. But moments later, judges raised white flags instead, giving the win to Masashi Ebinuma of Japan.
Judo is a sport of leverage, strength, tactics and cunning. These attributes can appear to the uninitiated to be two people attempting to grab each other, without success, for five minutes. And then when no points are scored, they try to grab each other for another three minutes of overtime.
One of these gripping contests — the men's quarterfinals at 66 kg — has become the source of international indignation over a perceived injustice. But with the sport of Judo, an apparently firm set of circumstances can flip in an instant.
International media, or really, the international media that pays any attention to Judo, has been condemnatory in its coverage of the result in the quarterfinal match between Masashi Ebinuma of Japan and Cho Jun-Ho of South Korea.
The judges on the mat awarded the decision to Cho — but then they were called over by sideline officials. After a brief consultation, Ebinuma was awarded the victory.
Of that reversal, The Japan Times wrote, "In what looked like a parody of The Three Stooges, the three judges then overturned their initial ruling after a short conference." And keep in mind, the Japanese fighter won the bout.
Agence France-Presse used the word "farcical" in its headline; a writer at the iconoclastic sports site Deadspin began a story with the admission, "I am not going to act like I know what the hell it is I am writing about here, but this sounds pretty ridiculous."
Anyway, while the decision certainly looked fishy, and while the word "unprecedented" was correctly applied to what happened, it doesn't mean that it was an improper ruling, or even an extrajudicial one.
Twelve years ago at the Sydney Games, judo's heavyweight final was seen as incorrectly decided. So the International Judo Federation took steps to correct their scoring system.
The 2012 Olympics mark the first time that video review would be employed to determine which throws should score points, and which should be judged as having just missed the mark.
What videos of Cho's, Ebinuma's and their coaches' alternatively pained-then-exultant reactions don't show is that in Golden Time of their match, a point was awarded to Ebinuma — but then, after a review, it was taken away.
It was a close call, obviously, because after the match ended, and Ebinuma declared the loser, the sideline officials called the referee and side judges over to say that the detracted point was close enough to have made the difference.
Such a judgment hadn't happened in these games, making it yes, unprecedented, but it seems to be in the rules — as detailed by the IJF.
In the end, both judoka (fighters) went on to medal, because two bronze medals are awarded in judo. Cho concluded, "We both won bronze, so I'm happy."