'92 judo gold medalist kicks only himself after getting lost Khakhaleichvili missed his event's weigh-in

July 21, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- David Khakhaleichvili of the Republic of Georgia was favored to win the heavyweight judo competition here the same way he won gold in Barcelona, Spain, four years ago. But there was no medal for him these Games. There was never even a chance to compete.

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life, and I don't know if I want to live anymore," Khakhaleichvili said through an interpreter at the end of his day of failure.

He should have known it was going to be a bad day when he awoke with a throbbing toothache. It got worse. He left the Olympic Village in the morning without his accreditation badge, which allows everyone -- including athletes -- access to every venue.

When he arrived at the World Congress Center for weigh-ins, he couldn't get through the maze of security. No credential.

No problem, he figured. It was still hours before the weigh-in deadline and the village was only 10 minutes away.

Khakhaleichvili decided to use the metro train system to get back to his room in the village as quickly as possible. But Khakhaleichvili, who doesn't speak or read English, had no clue when he missed his stop. Or when he missed nine others.

"I got lost," Khakhaleichvili said. "It's my fault, but it could happen to anyone."

Khakhaleichvili said he realized his mistake and decided to backtrack. Except he took the wrong escalator and accidentally left the underground train station. He didn't have the $1.50 necessary to get back inside.

So, hours before he was to compete, Khakhaleichvili decided to jog the four miles back.

When he arrived at the village, winded, sweating and tooth still hurting, Khakhaleichvili was told he couldn't get into the highly secure area. No credential.

Khakhaleichvili's coach then came to vouch for the athlete. Then, Khakhaleichvili said, they got trapped inside the village because there was a bomb threat.

"How can I put this delicately?" asked Richard Ley, spokesman for the International Judo Federation. "There has been absolutely no confirmation of any threat of any kind in the village."

Threat or not, Khakhaleichvili and his coach finally got out and back on the train toward the venue. They got lost. Again.

The two arrived at the weigh-in site five minutes past deadline. Officials refused to weigh him, disqualifying him on the spot.

A formal appeal to Yong-Sung Park, president of the International Judo Federation, was denied.

"What am I going to tell my family?" Khakhaleichvili said. "What can I say to my friends, or how can I even look them in the face? I have embarrassed my country and I have embarrassed myself.

"This makes me feel like four years of training and sweating were worth nothing. I had dreams."

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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