RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It was a day of surprises on the first day of the judo competition at the Rio Games.
In the women’s division, the first gold medal went not to defending Olympic champion Sarah Menezes in her home country, but to an Argentinian bronze medalist from the Beijing games, now a qualified doctor.
Paula Pareto, ranked third, jumped repeatedly in victory when she defeated South Korea’s Bokyeong Jeong in the women’s 48-kilogram division, much to the delight of a crowd packed with Argentinians waving their national flag. Pareto climbed into the spectator section afterward to be enveloped not only by giddy fans, friends and family, but numerous flags.
After hugging one particularly patriotic fan whose face was painted in blue and white, Pareto was left with faint traces of blue paint on the right side of her face. Her gold medal made her the first Argentinian woman in history to win an Olympic gold, in any sport.
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“It is really incredible for me, I never would have thought it,” Pareto said after her historic win. “I was especially happy to see the Argentinian flag raised.”
Pareto’s coach Laura Martinel described her as “phenomenal” and credited Pareto’s exceptional technique and mental strength for her victory.
Having split her recent fights with Jeong, Martinel said their strategy was for Pareto to go on the offensive. “We knew that we could not let (Jeong) perform because she*s fast and powerful. So the idea was to let Paula attack first, we had a rough moment in the match but eventually we overcome it and she did what was necessary.”
Argentinian President Mauricio Macri quickly tweeted his congratulations, saying “You make us all very proud.”
The top fighter in the division, Mongolia’s Urantsetseg Munkhbat, lost her bronze medal match to second-seeded Ami Kondo of Japan. The other bronze medal was won by Otgontsetseg Galbadrakh of Kazakhstan.
London Games champion Menezes had been hoping to repeat her victory in front of a home crowd, but lost twice: first to Cuba’s Dayaris Mestre Alvarez in the quarter finals and then in the repechage competition to Munkhbat, who applied such a strong armbar that Menezes tapped out in submission.
In the men’s division, the 18th-ranked Russian judoka, Beslan Mudranov, pulled off one of the day’s biggest upsets when he defeated top seed Won Jin Kim of South Korea. Mudranov, 30, defeated Yeldos Smetov of Kazakhstan in the final, becoming Russia’s first gold medalist at the Rio Games.
Amid the widespread Russian doping scandal, the entire Russian judo team was allowed to compete. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the honorary president of the International Judo Federation, the sport’s governing body; Putin holds a black belt in the Japanese martial art.
Mudranov said the doping allegations haven’t had “any effect at all” on the judo team. “”We were sure that they won’t exclude us, because excluding a whole country is firstly not fair and, it seems to me, impossible,” he said.
Mudranov said he was happy to be the first to win a gold medal for Russia but attributed that to the luck of the draw.
The men’s bronze medals were won by Japan’s Naohisa Takato and Diyorbek Urozboev of Uzbekistan.
Associated Press Writers Carlos A. Rodriguez and James Ellingworth contributed to this report.