Anton Geesink dies at 76; Olympic gold medalist popularized judo

Anton Geesink, who helped make judo a universally popular sport by winning a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, has died. He was 76.

Geesink died Friday, according to the Dutch state broadcaster NOS. He had spent several weeks in a hospital in his hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands. No other details were released.

The 6-foot-6 Geesink stunned Japan by becoming the first Westerner to win the World Judo Championship in 1961 in Paris, then won his Olympic gold three years later in Tokyo, the first time the Olympics included judo. He won another world title in Rio de Janeiro in 1965, along with a record 21 European championships.

At the 1964 Games, Japan dominated the judo competition, but its champion, Akio Kaminaga, was no match for Geesink in the open division, where there were no weight classifications. According to United Press International's account of the match, Geesink "crushed Kaminaga to the mat and held him there for the required 30 seconds."

Jim Bregman, a member of the U.S. judo team in 1964, told The Times in 1984: "The entire Japanese team returned to the locker room and wept, but this was no humiliation really.

"Anton was more than just a big guy, as many thought. What he was was a 6-foot-6, 300-pound technical genius, a very powerful, very fast judo player of consummate skill in a very large frame. Anton Geesink was quite the package."

Antonius Johannes Geesink was born April 6, 1934, in Utrecht in the Netherlands. He first participated at the European championships in 1951, finishing second.

The International Olympic Committee praised Geesink as a "great athlete" who "dedicated his entire career to the promotion of sport and its values." Geesink had been a member of the Olympic committee since 1987.

In 1999, Geesink received a warning from the committee in connection with a bribery scandal in the selection of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. A foundation bearing his name received a $5,000 check from Tom Welch, the former Salt Lake City organizing committee chief. Geesink maintained that he did nothing wrong and that the money was not paid to him.

Geesink is survived by his wife, Jans, and their three children.