The first medals at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Japan, have been decided and the hosts have been at the forefront of the early success once again.
The International Judo Federation’s (IJF) major event is once again being held at the legendary Nippon Budokan in the Japanese capital until 31 August and has drawn nearly 850 competitors from 146 countries and six continents.
In the men’s events, World Judo Masters winner Joshiro Maruyama confirmed himself as Japan’s number one and the best -66kg judoka in the world by beating world number 29 Limhwan Kim of Korea to take pole position in the race for Tokyo 2020 selection.
The world number two threatened several times with his uchi-mata and, while the warning signs were already there, Kim could not evade successive attempts from his opponent who scored twice in quick session in the final minute with his inner-thigh reaping technique.
In the first semi-final Maruyama beat compatriot and two-time and defending world champion Hifumi Abe (JPN) in an World Championships epic. Maruyama made a slow start and appeared to be suffering from cramp in his fingers before he began to limp briefly. As the contest continued the challenger was not backing down and, as the adrenaline took over, even tried to employ his usually potent uchi-mata with 30 seconds left. Golden score was needed to produce a winner and Abe, who could barely see out of his right eye, was caught with a yoko-otoshi after three minutes and 46 seconds for a waza-ari score to end a thrilling contest.
In the second semi-final the unheralded Kim disposed of Baku Grand Slam winner Denis Vieru of Moldova with a reaching o-uchi-gari for ippon to earn his unexpected place in the final.
In the men’s -73kg category, Olympic champion Shohei Ono won a rematch of the Rio 2016 final as Olympic silver medallist Rustam Orujov of Azerbaijan finished second best once again in a major final.
The 27-year-old Ono extended his winning run to 28 consecutive contests on the international stage as the owner of the gold backpatch claimed also red backpatch by ippon with his devastating uchi-mata.
In the first semi-final Orujov narrowly defeated compatriot Hidayat Heydarov by a waza-ari score in the closing seconds to advance to his second World Championships final.
In the second semi-final ashi-waza ace Denis Iartcev of Russia felt the full force of Ono who scored a waza-ari from his favoured uchi-mata and held down the Russian for 10 seconds to secure a place in the final.
European Games winner Lukhumi Chkhvimiani of Georgia was crowned the new men’s -60kg world champion as he defeated world number seven Sharafuddin Lutfillaev of Uzbekistan for the first time.
Chkhvimiani trailed 0-3 in their head-to-head series going into the Championships but registered a victory on the biggest stage of his career when it mattered the most. The Georgian countered an uchi-mata for a waza-ari score with 51 seconds left and, as Lutfillaev had no choice but to go on the attack, Chkhvimiani was ready and loaded up the Uzbek onto his hip and over for ippon and -60kg gold.
The gold medal count for Japan was continued in the women’s -52kg division as Uta Abe emphatically defeated Olympic bronze medallist Natalia Kuziutina of Russia. Livewire Abe launched Kuziutina with a sode-tsurikomi-goshi after only 30 seconds for ippon, in doing so the teenager extended her winning run to 42 contests in a row and to remain unbeaten since 2016 in international competition.
In the first semi-final Abe won the long-awaited clash with Olympic champion Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo in golden score. Both judoka received penalties early on as they made a nervy start before the two revered champions went toe-to-toe for four minutes. In golden score the red backpatch of Abe prevailed over the gold backpatch of Kelmendi as the youngster had a sense of an opening on the ground while the double world champion had anticipated the referee calling a stop to the action.
In the second semi-final world number one Amandine Buchard of France fell to Kuziutina who used all of her experience and nous to see off the Frenchwoman. Kuziutina countered Buchard as she picked up the top-ranked judoka and lifted her up and over for a waza-ari score which was correctly allocated after being reduced from a ippon score upon a video review.
Japan’s gold medal collection was however halted in the women’s -57kg and -48kg divisions.
In the former, world number two Christa Deguchi won the world title from defending champion Tsukasa Yoshida of Japan to make history for Canada.
Montreal Grand Prix winner Deguchi, 23, was a teammate of Yoshida until she switched from representing her homeland of Japan to Canada, the nationality of her father who was matside all day long.
The rivals had earned one victory apiece over each other on the IJF tour last year and were well-matched on this latest encounter until Deguchi caught Yoshida with a ura-nage for a waza-ari to earn her first world title. The red backpatch will however remain in Japan as Deguchi still lives here as she is now installed as the favourite for Olympic gold next year.
In the first semi-final the Canadian downed surprise package Ivelina Ilieva of Bulgaria by pinning down the underdog for 20 seconds and ippon.
In the second semi-final Yoshida defeated Olympic champion Rafaela Silva of Brazil (BRA) after three minutes of golden score. The Japanese judoka was the aggressor while Silva was battling to contain and counter her opponent as both judoka failed to trouble the scoreboard in regulation time. The Brazilian fiercely defended a hold down attempt from Yoshida and breathed a sigh of relief when the referee called the ‘matte’ only for the home judoka to launch with a ippon-seoi-nage for the maximum score and a place in the final.
In the -48kg division, Daria Bilodid of Ukraine, the youngest world judo champion of all time, successfully defended her world title as she won a thrilling rematch of the 2018 final against former world champion Funa Tonaki of Japan.
Bilodid maintained her feat of never losing to a Japanese judoka as she marked her first time competing in Japan with her second senior world crown.
The 18 year old also extended her head-to-head record over her 24 year old arch-rival to 4-0 with an opportunistic o-soto makikomi on the edge of the area for the only score in the final. Tonaki produced her best performance and came close to forcing a third shido as she pursued her adversary in the final minute but the owner of the red backpatch was able to hold on for gold.