Japan sent out another signal of intent for August’s World Championships in Tokyo by heading the medal table after last weekend’s International Judo Federation (IJF) Zagreb Grand Prix.
Having topped the standings at both the Montreal and Budapest Grand Prix events at the start of July, a haul of four golds and four silver medals saw the Japanese contingent continue their recent dominance.
The weekend’s action at the Dom Sportova in the Croatian capital was the seventh edition of the Grand Prix and attracted over 550 judoka from 87 nations. Canada claimed two golds and two silvers for second place on the medal table, ahead of Georgia who also claimed two golds in addition to three bronze medals. Great Britain enjoyed a fruitful weekend with a gold, silver and two bronze medals.
Friday’s first day of action was shared between Canada, Kazakhstan, Japan, Spain and Uzbekistan all among the medals.
The women’s -48kg final saw Kazakhstan’s Olympic bronze medallist Otgontsetseg Galbadrakh earn a fifth Grand Prix title after a titanic battle with France’s Melanie Clement. The pair went toe-to-toe for over 10 minutes on the tatami and both scored a waza-ari during regulation time to force golden score. After four and a half minutes of added time, Tbilisi Grand Prix winner Clement walked straight onto an o-ouchi-gari from Galbadrakh who captured the first gold medal of the Grand Prix.
In the women’s -52kg final, Natsumi Tsunoda of Japan edged past Da Sol Park of Korea by a single waza-ari score to win her second Grand Prix gold medal.
Tsunoda, who is behind world champion Uta Abe and world silver medallist Ai Shishime in the race for Tokyo 2020, produced a professional performance to take a key win to remain in the frame for her country having been overlooked for a place at the World Championships next month.
Osaka Grand Slam winner Jessica Klimkait defeated Momo Tamaoki of Japan for the second time to win the women’s -57kg gold. The Canadian beat Tamaoki in the Osaka Grand Slam final in November, and won her first Grand Prix title after the Japanese judoka was disqualified for endangering her opponent with waki-gatame. Klimkait’s teammate and rival for Tokyo 2020, the number one seed Christa Deguchi, pulled out of the competition in the morning after feeling pain in her foot during the warm up.
In the men’s -60kg final, Marrakech Grand Prix winner Sharafuddin Lutfillaev rescued the contest his way in the closing seconds only after Great Britain’s Ashley McKenzie was penalised for his third shido. Londoner McKenzie, who is closing in on a place at his third consecutive Olympics, was on the verge of his first IJF gold medal – on his 37th attempt on the Grand Prix stage alone – with a waza-ari advantage, but he let the Uzbek back into the final and with 15 seconds remaining he was passive and disqualified to his obvious disappointment.
Spain’s Alberto Gaitero Martin won his first IJF gold medal in style as he beat Paris Grand Slam winner Denis Vieru of Moldova. The Spaniard won their previous meeting at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam last year and was victorious once again as he upset the Moldovan – who was bidding for a fourth IJF title this year – with a ippon-seoi-nage.
Day two’s action saw Olympic champion Tina Trstenjak of Slovenia win her first IJF gold medal since January 2018 after beating Nami Nabekura of Japan in the women’s -63kg final. The contest went to golden score where the Slovenian won after one minute of added time after the Japanese judoka was guilty of a bear hug and picked up her third and final shido.
There was British success in the women’s -70kg final as Budapest Grand Prix winner Gemma Howell won her second IJF Grand Prix title in as many weeks by beating three-time World Judo Masters winner Kim Polling of the Netherlands. Polling had looked impressive in the preliminaries with a powerful and focused showing but came undone against the in-form British judoka who secured gold with a waza-ari score.
The men’s -73kg saw Israel’s Tohar Butbul earn his first IJF World Judo Tour gold medal by beating Canada’s Arthur Margelidon. The world number 11 threw with a seoi-otoshi with 35 seconds left to make the top spot on the IJF podium for the first time to strengthen his bid for success at the upcoming World Championships.
Former world champion Takanori Nagase of Japan won his second Grand Prix title in July with success in the men’s -81kg final. Olympic bronze medallist Nagase followed up on his Montreal win by beating London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Antoine Valois-Fortier of Canada by ippon in the final in a first-time meeting between two of the leading judoka in one of judo’s most fascinating weight categories.
The third and final day of competition in Zagreb was highlighted by two golds for Japan and Georgia tightening their grip of the men’s heavyweight category.
Former world champion Mami Umeki earned Japan’s penultimate gold by winning her third Grand Prix in the women’s -78kg final. Her opponent, Hohhot Grand Prix winner Fanny Estelle Posvite of France went the distance with her, sending the contest into golden score after a scoreless opening period. However, only five seconds of added time was required as the Japanese threw with her trademark uchi-mata for a waza-ari score, to remain in the frame for Tokyo 2020 selection.
The +78kg final saw that second Japanese gold as Akira Sone claimed a heavyweight title success ahead of making her World Championships debut in Tokyo. The 19 year-old did not have to fight in the final as European Games silver medallist Larisa Ceric was sidelined after picking up an injury in her successful semi-final contest.
The men’s -90kg final saw two-time World Judo Masters winner Beka Gviniashvili earn his first IJF gold medal since 2017. The 23-year-old Georgian showed why he has a reputation as one of the most feared and highly-rated judoka in the category by overpowering Japan’s MURAO Sanshiro Murao with a ura-ange for ippon.
The -100kg final saw Shady Elnahas deliver gold for Canada by going one better than his result in Montreal earlier this month. The 21-year-old, who exploded onto the scene by taking a stunning silver medal at the Osaka Grand Slam last year, beat Antalya Grand Prix winner Alexandre Iddir of France in golden score with a juji-gatame.
Budapest Grand Prix bronze medallist Gela Zaalishvili sealed a remarkable comeback in Zagreb as he recorded a thrilling win over Olympic silver medallist Hisayoshi Harasawa of Japan in the +100kg final. The 19 year-old Georgian only debuted on the IJF World Judo Tour in March and was caught with a ko-uchi-gari after 22 seconds of golden score which was awarded a waza-ari before being cancelled upon a review. That scare gave the youngster all the impetus and he turned over 27 year-old Harasawa for ippon.