Why are there two bronze medals given out at the Olympics in Judo?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are there two bronze medals given out at the Olympics in Judo?


Dear Meredith,

Whoa! I didn’t know about that. I knew that there could be two bronze medals given out (or two or even more gold or silvers) in the case of ties, but I didn’t realize that an event could choose to always give out two bronze medals. Judo does just that. I’m not sure I can tell you why this is, but I can tell you how it works, and then venture a guess about why.

I wrote about repechages at the Olympics the other day. A repechage is a competition that gives athletes who have already lost a second chance to advance to the next round in an event. Judo uses something very similar. The first few rounds of the judo tournament are normal single elimination. Lose, and you’re out. Once the quarterfinals begin, however, things get a little funny.

The four winners of the quarterfinals go onto the semifinals. They compete against each other and the two winners move to the finals. Meanwhile, the four quarterfinal losers go to a repechage-like round where they fight each other. The two winners of that advance to play against the two semifinal losers. This results in two matches, each of which pit one semifinal loser against one quarterfinal loser who then went on to win the repechage. Since these are parallel bouts in all ways, each of them is for a bronze medal!

This might be easier to understand visually. The bold letters win their matches.

Quarterfinals: A vs B | C vs D | E vs F | G vs H |
Semifinals: vs C | vs G | Repechages: vs D | vs H
Finals: vs E | Bronze Medal Matches: vs B | vs F

Now, why judo does this is another story. My guess is that it’s because judo is not a naturally competitive sport. The Wikipedia entry on Judo has an illuminating quote from the activity’s founding father, Kanō Jigorō:

For one thing, judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment. Then the Olympic Games are so strongly flavored with nationalism that it is possible to be influenced by it and to develop “Contest Judo”, a retrograde form… Judo should be free as art and science from any external influences, political, national, racial, and financial or any other organized interest. And all things connected with it should be directed to its ultimate object, the “Benefit of Humanity”.

Maybe, just maybe, in the competitive desert that is the modern Olympics, judo’s granting of two bronze medals is an oasis of anti-competitive spirit.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Summer Olympics: All About Judo

All About Judo

Judo is the Olympics’ only sport which stems from an Eastern martial art. Invented in the 1880s, Judo began as a martial art emphasizing principles of “maximum efficiency, minimal effort” and “mutual welfare and benefit”. Judo is acrobatic combat, impressive in its speed and suddenness.

How Does Judo Work?

Although the phrase “Judo chop” somehow entered the vernacular (I blame Austin Powers), there is no striking allowed in competitive Judo. Points are awarded for throwing one’s opponent to the floor. There are three degrees of throw: ippon, throwing an opponent to the ground on their back, and holding them there for 20 seconds, wazari, in which one of the elements of an ippon is missing, — for example, maybe someone landed mostly on their back but also on one elbow or was able to escape after 18 seconds — and yuko, when an opponent is thrown onto their side or immobilized for only ten seconds. Any single ippon ends the fight and wins it for the judoka performing the throw. Otherwise, bouts are either four or five minutes, with an untimed, sudden-death period if the score remains tied after that.

Why do People Like Watching

One rationale for why ALL sports are popular is that they all, in some way, simulate combat and that the urge to watch people fight is built into most people. Boxing and football, among other sports that model themselves on combat of different sorts, have become very guilty pleasures, thanks to what we now know about brain injury. Judo is a perfect antidote. It’s a combat sport without the guilt!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Judo, like boxing, has weight classes to provide some level of parity between opponents. Judo is organized into seven weight classes for men and women, starting at 132 lbs and ending at over 220 lbs for men and ranging from under 106 lbs for women and over 172 lbs for women.

How Dangerous is Judo?

Judo is not terribly dangerous. It seems to be one of those activities that’s actually much more dangerous for beginners than experts. Beginners are more likely to hit someone in the face illegally when they’re trying to grab them or break a bone falling to the mat than experts are. At the Olympic level, injuries are unusual.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Judo?

Judo has the same number of weight classes and therefore medals available for men and women. However, more men will compete for those medals than women. 220 men and only 146 women qualified for the Olympics. Women’s Judo matches are also only four minutes compared to five for men.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Judo is from Saturday, August 6 to Friday, August 12.

Read more about judo on the official Rio Olympics site.