Japan’s judoka once again showed why they are a force to be reckoned with after another successful weekend’s competition this time at the Budapest Grand Prix.
Having led the medal count at the inaugural Montreal Grand Prix the weekend previous, they did so again after another three days of highly charged judo action in Hungary. The Japanese contingent came away with five gold and three silver medals to send out any early warning to their rivals ahead of next month’s World Championships on home soil in Tokyo.
The László Papp Budapest Sports Arena was the venue for the Grand Prix which saw 542 competitors – 339 male and 203 female – drawn from 81 countries participate.
Day 1 saw the beginning of the Japanese medal haul with Funa Tonaki taking gold in the first final of the competition, the women’s -48kg final. The former world champion was pushed all the way by Antalya Grand Prix winner Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo despite Tonaki opening the scoring with a waza-ari before being caught with a uchi-mata for a waza-ari score on the edge of the area. In golden score, the Japanese judoka had the edge as she pinned down her rival for 10 seconds and gold.
One gold became two for Japan when Chishima Maeda beat Switzerland’s Fabienne Kocher by a waza-ari score to capture her first gold medal on the IJF World Judo Tour. World number 64 Kocher was appearing in her first IJF final and was resolute when going the distance with the impressive Japanese who took silver at the Junior World Championships in 2017.
Olympic champion Rafaela Silva of Brazil earned her sixth Grand Prix title with a resounding win over European Games silver medallist Nora Gjakov of Kosovo in the -57kg final. With 53 seconds of the contest remaining, Silva seized her opportunity as she countered a weak uchi-mata on the edge of the contest area by rolling over Kosovo’s star for ippon.
In the men’s events, the 2015 world champion defeated the 2014 world champion in the -60kg final as Yeldos Smetov of Kazakhstan beat Boldbaatar Ganbat of Mongolia. Smetov offered more with a higher workrate and pressed Ganbat who was second best throughout the final and Kazakhstan claimed their first gold when Smetov threw with a seoi-nage in the closing seconds for ippon.
There was better news for Mongolia and the roles reversed in the 66k final as Montreal Grand Prix gold medallist Kherlen Ganbold recorded his second and back-to-back IJF World Judo Tour wins as he responded to being left out of his team for the Worlds in the best possible way. Ganbold had trailed to Asian-Pacific Championships silver medallist Yeldos Zhumakanov of Kazakhstan by a waza-ari score but fought his way back into the final and subdued his Asian rival by ippon.
The second day of action in Budapest saw four gold medals for four different nations, one of those being for Great Britain.
Typically one of those gold medals went to Japan as Masako Doi defeated Beijing 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Ketleyn Quadros of Brazil in the women’s -63kg final. The tense contest went to golden score after regulation time failed to produce a score. Quadros slipped off the pace in added time and was reprimanded, for the third time, for being passive to hand the gold medal to Japan’s rising contender.
There was success for Great Britain in the -70kg final as London 2012 Olympian Gemma Howell earned Grand Prix gold at the 18th attempt. Howell beat two-time world medallist Maria Bernabeu of Spain to win her first IJF World Judo Tour title, a victory which has now put pressure on her -70kg teammate and Olympic bronze medallist Sally Conway in the race for the one place for Tokyo 2020. After throwing the powerful Spaniard for a waza-ari the British judoka pinned her opponent with a sankaku-gatame to clinch gold.
The men’s -73kg final saw Akil Gjakova capture Kosovo’s third gold medal in Budapest but the first gold after a faultless display. Gjaokva threw 20-year-old Orenburg European Cup winner Georgii Elbakiev of Russia with a sasae-tsurikomi-ashi for his second score to seal gold.
Tato Grigalashvili of Georgia landed gold in the -81kg category as he swept aside world number 353 Joao Macedo of Brazil in the final. Judo Sogipa member Macedo, 27, the older brother of Rafael Macedo, world number 15 in the weight category above, was overwhelmed by the 19-year-old Georgian who opened the scoring with an o-uchi-gari for a waza-ari and added a second from a trademark hip throw.
Sunday’s third and final day in Hungary saw two further gold medals for Japan with Brazil, Spain and Israel also landing one each.
Brazil’s gold came when double world champion Mayra Aguiar defeated World Judo Masters silver medallist SATO Ruika Sato of Japan to win the -78kg final. Two-time Olympic bronze medallist Aguiar, who is one of the favourites for the World Championships next month, edged past her long-time rival in golden score after Sato was penalised for passivity and received hansoku-make.
There was a better outcome for Japan in the +78kg final as former Junior World Championships gold medallist Wakaba Tomita of Japan earned her first senior IJF gold medal at the expense of Openweight World Championships bronze medallist Nihel Cheikh Rouhou of Tunisia. The 22-year-old Japanese was making her first appearance on the IJF circuit since finishing fifth at the 2015 Tokyo Grand Slam and outperformed her surprise finalist and Tunisian opponent who was dismissed after picking up three shidos.
The first of the final three men’s deciders saw world number one Nikoloz Sherazazdishvili of Spain capture his second Grand Prix gold medal with a win over Osaka Grand Slam winner Shoichiro Mukai of Japan in the -90kg final. Sherazazdishvili, who last previously topped a Grand Prix podium in Cancun in 2017, prepared for his upcoming title defence in Tokyo by beating one of his strongest challengers. Mukai had to settle for silver after having his ko-soto-gake countered for ippon.
In the -100kg final, former world champion WOLF and All Japan Openweight Championships winner Aaron Wolk of Japan retained his Budapest title and won his fourth Grand Prix gold medal with a win over Estonia’s Grigori Minaskin. Wolf employed his uchi-mata to great effect as he scored twice with the technique. Minaskin, Estonia’s first Grand Prix finalist, will be delighted with his career-best result which moves him closer to Tokyo 2020 qualification.
Ekaterinburg Grand Slam silver medallist Or Sasson of Israel had the final word at the Budapest Grand Prix as he beat Kokoro Kageura of Japan in the +100kg final to win his fourth Grand Prix title. Sasson threw with a ko-soto-gake eight seconds into golden score for gold and will expect to be in the frame for a medal at the World Championships in Tokyo.
As a footnote to the weekend’s Grand Prix in the Hungarian capital, IJF President Mr. Marius L. Vizer announced during Thursday’s competition draw that Budapest has been revealed as a leading contender to stage the IJF World Judo Championships 2022.