The IJF World Judo Tour returned to Inner Mongolia, China, at the weekend with the 2019 edition of the Hohhot Grand Prix.
With exactly one year left in the Olympic qualification process, this leg of the IJF World Judo Tour was seen as a pivotal event on the calendar so far this year and so it proved with sterling performances.
Day one was dominated by Korea’s judoka whilst there was also a winning return to action for World champion Abe Uta.
The Korean gold rush started in the women’s -48kg final as Yu Sun Son defeated world number 29 Yao Xiong of China. The world number 113 picked up two shidos after making a lethargic start but improved as the contest entered the final minute and eventually broke the deadlock with 25 seconds left via a waza-ari score from a ko-soto-gake and held on for her first IJF World Judo Tour triumph.
In the -52kg final, World champion and 2018 Hohhot Grand Prix winner Uta Abe of Japan defeated world number eight Evelyne Tschopp of Switzerland with a textbook uchi-mata to win her third Grand Prix title. The 18-year-old, who was making her first start of the season, scored ippon with her favoured technique after 90 seconds to extend her winning streak to 37 contests on the IJF World Judo Tour.
Asian-Pacific Championships winner Jin A Kim of Korea struck IJF gold for the first time in her career as she defeated Russia’s Daria Mezhetskaia in the -57kg final. Mezhetskaia was denied a first IJF title by the world number 33 and first-time IJF finalist who backed up her impressive Asian Games credentials by celebrating gold for a rampant Korean team.
That success continued in the men’s -60kg category as double world medalist Won Jin Kim stole the show in Hohhot with the ippon of the day as he beat Asian Championships silver medallist Yung Wei Yang of Taipei. Kim, who finished seventh at Rio 2016 Olympics, claimed his fifth Grand Prix crown with a sensational hane-goshi for ippon in his first competition of the year.
Korea added another gold to their tally in the -66kg final as Limhwan Kim beat Aram Grigoryan of Russia in golden score to send his country top of the medal table. Grigoryan was penalised for passivity in added time which was his third offence and the Russian had to settle for silver as world number 41 Kim claimed his second IJF win and first since 2016.
Day 2 saw Germany’s Martyna Trajdos claimed her first IJF Grand Prix gold medal since 2013 as she defeated China’s Jing Tang in the -63kg final. Trajdos was too strong for world number 25 Tang who was thrown with an o-soto-gari and then an o-uchi-gari with 27 seconds left in a comprehensive win for the German.
Japan’s Saki Niizoe captured her second Grand Prix gold medal with a victory over Sweden’s Anna Bernholm in the -70kg final. Two-time Grand Prix winner Bernholm was thrown with a ashi-guruma for the maximum score for Niizoe.
In the men’s -73kg final, Azerbaijan’s Hidayat Heydarov won his second IJF World Judo Tour event in as many weeks as he beat former world bronze medallist Victor Scvortov. Heydarov won his first IJF gold medal at his home event of the Baku Grand Slam earlier this month and countered his rival from the United Arab Emirates for ippon on this occasion to claim back-to-back IJF titles and his first Grand Prix title.
World champion Saeid Mollaei underlined his superiority in a stacked -81kg weight category by winning a rematch of the 2018 Worlds final in spectacular fashion. The Iranian judoka earned his first Grand Prix gold medal by throwing Japan’s Sotaro Fujiwara with a sode-tsurikomi-goshi for ippon which was arguably the ippon of the day. Japanese number one and three-time Grand Slam winner Fujiwara showed his sportsmanship and respect for his conqueror by raising the hand of his opponent.
Day three and the final day of action in Hohhot saw France’s Fanny Estelle Posvite win her first IJF gold medal after an impressive win over Germany’s Anna Maria Wagner in the women’s -78kg final. Two-time Grand Prix winner Wagner was looking to achieve a hat-trick of titles at this level but finished second best after France’s former -70kg judoka stamped her name on her new division with an o-soto-makikomi after 29 seconds of golden score.
Cuba’s heavyweight great Idalys Ortiz defeated Japan’s Maya Akiba to win the women’s +78kg title. The world number one, who is bidding for her fourth consecutive Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020 next year, had too much experience for Grand Prix debutant Akibawho was disqualified after being penalised three times for passivity.
In the men’s competitions, Japan’s world bronze medallist Kenta Nagasawa defeated former world champion Nemanja Majdov of Serbia to take gold in the -90kg category. Japan’s number two had the measure of Serbia’s standout with a uchi-mata on the edge of the contest area providing a waza-ari score which settled the final after four minutes.
In the -100kg final, world champion Guham Cho of Korea won his fourth Grand Prix at the expense of Ireland’s Ben Fletcher who was penalised for the third and final time for passivity. Cho illustrated why he is the owner of the red backpatch in the -100kg category as he won the first meeting between the two after a tactically astute performance where he forced in-form world number nine Fletcher to pick up his third penalty.
Former Cadet World Championships winner and teenage prodigy Minjong Kim of Korea made a name for himself in the +100kg category as he beat Mongolian hero Tuvshinbayar Naidan to register his first IJF World Judo Tour victory. Kim, 18, threw the 2008 Olympic champion and London 2012 Olympic silver medallist Naidan, who turns 35 next week, with a uchi-mata for ippon with 24 seconds left on the clock. Victory for Kim sent his country top of the medal table with their fourth gold medal from the weekend as Naidan was denied a fairytale repeat of his 2018 win in Inner Mongolia.