Refugee athlete Popole Misenga’s Round of 32 win among top moments of Judo Day 5 prelims

The preliminary rounds of the men’s 90kg and women’s 70kg judo competition have concluded. The remaining fighters will now take a short break before returning to the tatami the final block (2:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCOlympics.com) for the repechage, semifinals and medal matches.

Below are a few of the top stories from prelims.

Refugee Olympic Team athletes compete
The new Refugee Olympic Team formed by the IOC this year features only 10 athletes, but two of them are judoka.

Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa were both born in Congo, a country wracked by the atrocities of war, but sought asylum in Brazil three years ago after arriving in Rio for the world championships. The two were fed up with harsh conditions within Congo’s national team, which included time locked in a cell for losing at tournaments, as well as deprivation of food and water.

Since then, they have been training in Rio and were named to the refugee team – which competes under the Olympic flag – earlier this year.

Bukasa faced Israel’s Linda Bolder in the opening round of the women’s 70kg tournament, but was forced to tap out a little over a minute into the bout when Bolder got her in a chokehold.

The Associated Press described Bukasa’s emotions afterward:

After the match, Bukasa said that she was “happy even having lost because I had the chance to fight at the Olympics.” She said her message for family back home was that she was continuing to fight, “not just for judo, but for my life.” And that they should do the same.

Misenga, who is competing in the men’s 90kg bracket, took to the mat shortly after for a hard-fought match with India’s Avtar Singh. At one point, Singh was nearly able to get Misenga in an armbar, but Misenga fended him off until the referee stopped the action and ordered the judoka to return to a standing position. With Misenga holding the lead on penalties late in the match, he was able to take down Singh for a yuko in the closing seconds to solidify his advantage.

After Misenga’s victory, the Brazilian crowd began chanting his name.

The reward for Misenga was a bout against South Korea’s Gwak Dong-Han, the No. 2 seed in the tournament and current world No. 1. The match was scoreless for around three minutes, and Misenga even led on penalties at several points. But with about a minute left, Gwak successfully forced Misenga to submit.

Quick start for Team USA
One day after Travis Stevens gave the United States its first judo medal of these Games, it was Colton Brown’s turn to take the mat in 90kg action.

His first match was against Iszlam Monier Suliman of Sudan in the Round of 32, and it did not last long. Brown had the Sudanese fighter on his back for an ippon after just 21 seconds.

Brown would subsequently fall to France’s Alexandre Iddir by waza-ari in the Round of 16.

Upset of the day
The first few days of judo competition have featured some incredible upsets, and today was no exception.

A Round of 32 match pitted Benin’s Celtus Williams Abiola Dossou Yovo (the world No. 208) against Portugal’s Celio Dias (the world No. 21).

In less than two minutes, Dossou Yovo put Dias on the ground for a waza-ari that was then upgraded to an ippon.

Here’s a look at the matches coming up in today’s final block. Rankings from the end of the Olympic qualification period are included.

Men’s 90kg semifinal matches
No. 1 Mashu Baker (JPN) vs. No. 24 Cheng Xunzhao (CHN)
No. 2 Gwak Dong-Han (KOR) vs. No. 3 Varlam Liparteliani (GEO)

Men’s 90kg repechage matches
No. 8 Alexandre Iddir (FRA) vs. No. 5 Marcus Nyman (SWE)
No. 25 Mammadali Mehdiyev (AZE) vs. No. 9 Otgonbaatar Lkhagvasuren (MGL)

Women’s 70kg semifinal matches
No. 12 Haruka Tachimoto (JPN) vs. No. 5 Laura Vargas Koch (GER)
No. 2 Yuri Alvear (COL) vs. No. 11 Sally Conway (GBR)

Women’s 70kg repechage matches
No. 8 Kelita Zupancic (CAN) vs. No. 4 Bernadette Graf (AUT)
No. 7 Maria Bernabeu (ESP) vs. No. 9 Linda Bolder (ISR)