Khabareli surges to judo crown
Russia and East Germany hoovered up the majority of the medals at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but judo was a sport where the spoils were expected to be shared more evenly.
The event was held at the splendidly atmospheric Sports Palace in Luzhniki, where the tight confines and vociferous crowd made for a superb fighting arena.
Unfortunately, the men’s half middleweight event was deprived of its biggest name because of the boycott.
Japan’s Shozo Fujii had won the world title in Paris in spectacular fashion the previous year, and would have been the favourite had he been allowed to compete in Moscow.
That honour duly fell to the Frenchman Bernard Tchoullyan, the man he’d beaten in the world championship final.
Tchoullyan eased through the early rounds, but defeat in the semi-final left the path open for Georgian-born Russian Shota Khabareli.
The 21-year-old had never won a major judo medal, but the experts sat up and took notice when he disposed of world championship bronze medallist Harald Heinke in the last 16.
He took out Bulgarian Georgi Petrov in the quarter-final, and when he surged past Romanian Mircea Fratica in the semi-finals, he suddenly found himself in a battle for the gold.
There he would face Cuban judoka Juan Ferrer La Hera, and the two enjoyed a classic game of cat and mouse.
The Georgian edged it and held his alarms aloft when the final buzzer rang out. He fell into the arms of La Hera, who graciously accepted defeat.
It was to prove the highlight of Khabareli’s career, although he took a world bronze in 1983 and went on to enjoy a successful coaching career.