Judo: 'Tired' Fallon's rapid exit may raise a few eyebrows

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The Independent Online

Judo is a sport which paradoxically translates from the Japanese as "the gentle way", but there is not much gentility about throwing someone else's weight around or having to claw your way through a red mist of blood to come away with nothing more than a sore head hung low in disappointment.

Craig Fallon, the 25-year-old Wolverhampton bantamweight (under 60kg), had always hoped to get Britain's Olympics off to a flying start at Beijing's University of Science and Technology Gymnasium by becoming the first to strike gold both here and in judo. The former world champion came close to neither. But he was one bout away from a fight-off for a bronze and ahead on points when he was literally swept off his feet by his smartly countering Israeli opponent.

Fallon had tried to perk himself up after a below-par performance in his second bout, when he was beaten by Austria's European champion, Ludwig Paischer, a result which had put paid to his chances of anything but bronze. It was a bad time for Fallon to have an off-day, but this he claimed to be the case.

"I haven't felt right since I got up this morning," he said. "I don't know why. I have had a lot of things going through my mind and I've been trying to block them out. I don't know if it is the heat or the fact that we were held up by a typhoon in Macau and didn't get in here until three o'clock in the morning on Thursday, but I just feel tired.

"I made a couple of mistakes in the last fight and I felt my legs wobble. To finish in seventh place wasn't what I came for. It's a big disappointment." It was a similarscenario to Athens four years ago, when he was spectacularly thrown while leading a Greek opponent in his second bout.

As fighting men go, Fallon may not have the clout or chat lines of Ricky Hatton, but he could put him on his back quicker than you can say "ippon"– judo-speak for KO – and he endures the same vulnerability around the eyes.

It had been his misfortune in the morning to run into the in-form Paischer in his second of five bouts. Fallon was uncharacteristically passive and was penalised a point for being so. In boxing terms he was beaten to the punch by an opponent who cleverly thwarted his attacks almost before they began.

Fallon escaped from one throw early on in the four-minute bout when he suffered a koka (knockdown). Though Paischer also had a penalty point against him for an illegal hold he held on, literally, for a worthy 2-1 points victory which meant Fallon could take bronze at best.

Fallon had lost only once in seven meetings with Paischer – as a junior. So it was a fight which reopened old wounds, not least the one on his left eyebrow from a clash of heads. "I thought my first fight [against Monaco's Yannis Siccardi] was a bit of a poor one, even though I won," he said. "But with someone like Paischer, who tries to stop you attacking, it is hard to get into the fight. The annoying thing is I beat him quite easily when we fought in the World Cup in Austria earlier this year and he was my opponent in the final when I won the world title in 2005. But this was obviously his day."

Yet Fallon battled on, his head heavily bandaged and blood streaking down his face on to the mat, which had to be cleaned while he was receiving medical attention again as he beat Paischer's earlier victim, Younis Ahmadi of Morocco in a repêchage contest. He then had another points victory over North Korea's Jin Kyong Kim, the bleeding eyebrow worsening and the area underneath it swelling each time his head thudded into the mat.

Then, against Gal Yekutel, also facially damaged and bandaged, came the cruellest cut of all, the stunning throw which put him down, and out. Gallingly, he had beaten the Israeli on the three previous occasions they had met.

In 2003 Fallon won a world silver medal, and two years later he became only the third Briton to reign as world champion. After the Athens defeat he won the European title to become the first Briton since Neil Adams in 1981 to hold world and European titles at the same time. But a series of injuries, including those cut eyes, caused him to miss the last World Championships, and he made an early exit in this year's Europeans.

In judo there is no room for remonstration or demonstration. You just black-belt up and bow out gracefully, which is what Fallon did, his Olympic dream over. Will he try again in London? "I don't know. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. If I don't feel I can do well I'll step back and let someone else have a chance."

For weeks we have been told, not least by the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, that this is the best-prepared team Britain has ever sent to an Olympic Games, yet already we have Fallon failing after complaining of feeling "drained" and leading boxing medal hope Frankie Gavin unable to make the weight. Surely questions need to be asked about these preparations, especially in view of the massive financial investment in them.