The Jeon Ki-young Story Part 4: 1997 Paris World Championships
The 1997 Paris World Championships was to be Jeon Ki-young’s last hurrah at the world level. Judo fans would have loved to see one final rematch with Yoshida but the Japanese champion had suffered an arm injury at the Atlanta Olympics, which put him out of training for nearly a year, and thus out of contention for the 1997 World’s. Interestingly, the person who broke Yoshida’s arm in Atlanta was Germany’s Marko Spittka, who would turn out to be Jeon’s final match opponent.
Jeon had a relatively easy ride to the final. He threw Andrea Akoury of Lebanon with a perfectly-timed drop ippon-seoi-nage, then threw Keith Morgan of Canada with his trademark drop morote-seoi-nage. Against Jose Vicbart Geraldino of Dominican Republic, he did a standing cross-grip seoi-nage followed by a drop sode-tsurikomi-goshi. The preliminary rounds were a breeze for Jeon. But his semifinal match was a hard one.
He was up against Algimantas Merkevicius of Lithuania, whom he had beaten twice before but the Lithuanian player had clearly studied Jeon’s judo. Jeon wasn’t able to throw Merkevicius but since Jeon was ahead on penalties, it was he who progressed to the final.
Spitkka was on fire, throwing beautiful ippons to the left and to the right, on his way to the final. Once he faced Jeon though, he become a different player. Gone was the confidence and aggressiveness he had displayed in the preliminary rounds. In fact, Spitkka seemed to be more focused on not being thrown than attempting to throw.
Jeon, in contrast, attacked Spitkka relentlessly with uchimata after uchimata. These were not strategic attacks designed to make him look busy but real attempts to throw the German. Though none managed to score, Jeon was clearly the aggressor here. Spitkka’s non-combativity earned him penalties up to keikoku, which back then meant Jeon had a waza-ari. This was enough to win him the match. There wasn’t a big throw involved but it was a great third World title for Jeon. Today, he is still the most successful South Korean judoka.