Saudi fighter almost steals Riner’s thunder
LONDON: Wojdan Shaherkani became the first ever Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympic Games on Friday and almost stole French heavyweight champion Teddy Riner’s thunder.
Riner is the biggest star in the sport and has been totally dominant in the top men’s division since the last Games.
He has lost only once since being beaten in the semi-finals in Beijing and here in London he fulfilled his dream of adding Olympic gold to his five world titles.
And while no heavyweight man could match him on the mat, a heavyweight woman was threatening to do so in the media headlines.
In fact, if truth be told, 16-year-old Shaherkani won the ‘press interest’ competition hands down with more than 100 journalists trying to talk to her after her fight.
The teenager had already become a household name ahead of her competition as a row over her wearing a hijab made the news pages the world over.
The International Judo Federation had said she would have to respect judo safety rules and fight with her head uncovered while Saudi officials claimed it was Islamic dress that would need to be adhered to or otherwise she wouldn’t fight.
A compromise was reached and Shaherkani took to the mat for her historic moment wearing a swimming cap.
Her fight lasted only 82 seconds as she lost to Puerto Rico’s Melissa Mojica but she left the stadium, after sharing a tearful embrace with her father — an international referee — to a standing ovation.
“I’m proud, I’m happy and I want to continue in judo. I want to thank the fans for their support,” Shaherkani said.
“I was disturbed and afraid at the beginning, it was my first time in a big competition and there was a lot of pressure because of the hijab issue.”
Once her day was done, the real business of fighting for gold took over.
China’s Tong Wen, who won in Beijing, had been as dominant in women’s heavyweight judo as Riner had in the men’s division.
She had not lost to a foreign fighter in five-and-a-half years but, despite a commanding start, was stunned in the semi-finals by Cuba’s Idalys Ortiz.
So Riner was left to fulfil his destiny and confirm his standing as the undisputed master of the sport.
He was far from his brilliant best throughout the day, throwing only one opponent, but his sheer presence and dominance of the grip ensured that when he didn’t score from throws, he forced penalties on his adversaries.
Riner, who beat three-time world champion Alexander Mikhaylin of Russia in the final, said: “It’s true I had no big ippons and it wasn’t easy to do any throws today.
“The Olympics is nothing like the World or European Championships or anything else.
“Everyone was ready for everything and any time I had the chance to put my hands on my opponents they didn’t wait to stick their bums out and be defensive.”
World number two Andreas Toelzer claimed one bronze medal alongside Brazil’s Rafael Silva.
Having defeated seven-time world champion Tong, Ortiz went on to beat Japan’s second seed Maki Sugimoto in the tighest of finals, winning on a judges’ decision.
Despite once being the major powerhouse of women’s judo, it was Cuba’s first gold medal since the Sydney Games in 2000.
“For me the challenge was to help maintain Cuba’s results in judo. We hadn’t won a gold medal since 2000 so it means a lot to me,” said Ortiz.
“We all prepared well and I’ve always said no-one is unbeatable and that I could beat anyone, not just Tong Wen.”
Tong went on to claim bronze alongside Great Britain’s Karina Bryant.