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Judo champion Anton Geesink dies at 76

August 28, 2010 |  7:16 am

Geesink Anton Geesink, the Dutchman who helped make judo a universally popular sport, has died, the Netherlands' Olympic Committee said. He was 76.

Geesink, who won the first Olympic judo gold medal, died Friday of an unspecified illness after several weeks in a hospital in his hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, the Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported.

Geesink stunned Japan by becoming the first Westerner to win the world judo championship in 1961 in Paris, followed by his Olympic gold in 1964 in Tokyo. That victory changed the perception that judo was a Japanese sport.

The International Judo Federation said on its website that "a giant has just passed away."

Geesink won two world championship titles -- the second came in Rio de Janeiro in 1965 -- and a record 21 European championship titles. In his prime, he stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 265 pounds.

He had been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1987.

The IOC praised Geesink as a "great athlete" who "dedicated his entire career to the promotion of sport and its values."

The blue belts now worn by one competitor in international matches for ease of distinction by judges, referees and spectators arose from a suggestion made by Geesink at an judo federation meeting in 1986.

He was the first European to become a ninth dan judoka in 1987, and was awarded the 10th degree in 1997 by the judo foundation.

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

-- Associated Press

Photo: Anton Geesink holds his gold medal in 1964. Credit: Associated Press