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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bruisers and Blubbers at Judo Championship

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Last time I set foot in Baku's Sports Palace -- an ugly concrete building shaped liked a tortoise -- it was to visit the 10th annual Caspian Oil and Gas Show.

In the main hall, exhibitors showed off their latest deep-sea drilling equipment while girls in red LUKoil bodysuits handed out peanuts to visitors.

Last weekend, the event taking place at the Palace was a little different. The offshore drills had been replaced by sweaty gym mats, and where the LUKoil girls had stood there was now a long line of balding judges scribbling in their notepads.

For the first time in its history, Azerbaijan hosted the European Cadet Judo Championships, and it was a huge success. On the first day of the competition, every seat in the 7,000-seat hall was taken.

I looked in on Sunday afternoon, when the older competitors, the 16- and 17-year olds, were slugging it out for their medals. A British girl called Abbie, who was built like a walk-in freezer, took the gold after a brief fight with a German girl half her size.

Abbie's coach, an amiable chap from Huddersfield called Trevor, said he was proud of the whole team. "They've done very well, particularly in this heat," he said. But they were still no match for the Russians, the Georgians and the Azeris, who managed to scoop almost every medal going.

It must be a Caucasian thing. Most of the Russian competitors hailed from Dagestan and Ingushetia, and despite their tender age, they had muscles like tennis balls and pulled menacing faces to frighten their opponents even before the fights had begun.

There weren't any Chechens in the competition, but if there had been, I've no doubt they would have swept the board. When I covered the Youth Olympics in Moscow five years ago, the star of the martial arts tournament was a 7-year-old female kickboxer from Grozny, who smashed every opponent in under a minute.

At the Sydney Olympics, Azerbaijan took home a gold and a bronze for men's wrestling, and in last weekend's competition in Baku, the junior team was doing just as well. Only they didn't like it when they lost.

In one final -- an Azeri against a Slovak -- the Azeri threw himself onto the ground and beat the mat with his fists when he lost. The Georgians were no better: A boy called Georgy, who picked up a bronze medal, blubbed so hard through the Russian national anthem that the gold medalist had to lend him his handkerchief.

That just about sums up the Caucasus nations for me: They're tough, they're strong. But more than anything, they cannot bear to lose.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.