Fallon's dream shattered in four eternal seconds

Judo may be distinctly Japanese but it was all Greek to Craig Fallon yesterday. The Wolverhampton bantamweight had hoped to give Britain the sort of first day flying start that saw the cyclist Jason Queally spark off the Sydney gold rush, but instead it was a case of first in and first out.

Judo may be distinctly Japanese but it was all Greek to Craig Fallon yesterday. The Wolverhampton bantamweight had hoped to give Britain the sort of first day flying start that saw the cyclist Jason Queally spark off the Sydney gold rush, but instead it was a case of first in and first out.

And it was down to a Greek opponent, Revazi Zintiridis, who snatched victory just four seconds from the end of Fallon's second bout.

Even so, Fallon could still have gone forward to the repechage stage and the chance of a bronze medal had the Greek won his next bout. But perversely he lost to an Iranian, leaving him to go to the repechage instead. All Fallon was left with was a bruised shoulder and some broken dreams.

A confusing sport, judo. Full of twists, turns and contradictions. It is it is a sport of fickle decisions and yet great nobility.

On form Fallon, the 21-year-old world-championship silver medallist, should certainly have beaten an opponent who holds a European silver, and gone on to the final stages. But it did not work out that way.

Fallon was ahead on points when he was caught by judo's equivalent of a sucker punch. There were just four seconds of the five-minute contest left on the clock when he was thrown on his back by an ippon - a manoeuvre which is worth the maximum 10 points. It was 10 and out for the distraught Fallon, who had started the day brightly by winning his opening bout against the Australian Scott Fernandis in less than a minute. He seemed to be well on the way to beating the Greek, too, despite having to keep rubbing a shoulder that Zintiridis had been resolutely prodding.

A couple of earlier, lesser throws had put Fallon in the lead and all he had to do to win was stay on his feet. But in judo that is the hardest feat of all and the Greek took advantage of a an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration to deliver the decisive ippon.

Afterwards both Fallon and Team GB's German coach Udo Quellmalz reckoned a bit of hometown bias among the judges had helped the Greek on his way. It was not quite a case of "We wuz robbed", because the finish was so conclusive, but Quellmalz suggested they were done no favours. The reverse in fact.

"In Greece, fighting a Greek, you are not going to get any help from the referee. He could have called an ippon for Craig earlier, but didn't," he said.

Fallon too thought himself a tad hard done by but was realistic enough to appreciate that he had probably brought about his own downfall, quite literally, by taking his eye off his opponent. "Obviously I am very disappointed but maybe it was my fault," he said. "I lost concentration for a second, and that was enough. To have lost in the last four seconds was stupid. My head wasn't there. I felt confident enough but in the end in this sport it comes down to concentration and luck, and I didn't have either."

To be equally realistic Fallon's prospect of claiming Britain's first-ever Olympic judo gold would almost certainly have been thwarted anyway by the brilliant Japanese Tadahiro Nomura, who won his third Olympic title - a record for the 60kg division - with a comprehensive points victory over a Georgian, Nestor Khergiani. Nomura's compatriot, Ryoko Tani, won the 48kg women's title against France's Frederique Jossinet by a similar throw to the one which put paid to Fallon, also just a few seconds from the end. Both have god-like status in their homeland. Judo all Greek did we say? As far as yesterday's honours were concerned, it was all Japanese.

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