While the Olympic qualifying process is in full swing, the break in senior events is a good evaluation moment for the current status of participation for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
For men the top 22 competitors per weight category will qualify while among women it will be the 14 best players of the world ranking list, both with the same 'one athlete per country' rule.
To this international quota, a continental group of athletes will also be added. The qualification phase will officially end on May 1st after the last Continental Championship of this year. Between May and June, the IJF will announce its 20 wild cards in order to finalise the final quota of participation at the Olympic Games.
In the -48kg weight category, the top of the world ranking is firmly held by the Japanese armada (FUKUMI Tomoko and ASAMI Haruna), the two contenders for the Olympic qualification having almost reached or surpassed the 2000 points. The next national championships will probably decide between the two champions. More than 800 points behind, several athletes are really tight, the third place still being held by the young Sarah MENEZES (BRA), while Charline VAN SNICK (BEL) confirms her major role as an outsider since her recent victory at the Judo Grand Prix, Düsseldorf 2012. In ambush is the Olympic champion, Romania's Alina DUMITRU, closely followed by Eva CSERNOVICZKI (HUN), bronze medalist at the world championships in Paris last August. Aged 26 years, Paula PARETO (ARG), winner of the World Cup in Apia in 2011, and WU Shugen (CHN), bronze medal in the Judo Grand Prix, Amsterdam 2011, at the end of the last sports season, complete the eight bests in the world, while the following seven athletes are held in just 40 points.
Not less than three Japanese fighters hold qualifying places in the world's twelve bests. But given that there will only be one Japanese judoka qualified, some places will be freed for other nations. NISHIDA Yuka, with over 2100 points, seems in a good position to win her flight ticket to London. The second place is held by the young NAKAMURA Misato, who is closely followed by the Mongolian, MUNKHBAATAR Bundmaa. Just behind, Natalia KUZYUTINA (RUS) and Majlinda KELMENDI (IJF) are neck and neck after their good results obtained throughout the Olympic qualifying process. Just behind the top athletes, the podium contenders will be particularly numerous in London, since the positions up to the 15th best player in the world are really tight. The presence of the 2005 World Champion, Yanet BERMOY (CUB), in the top 10, perfectly illustrates the very high level of the category.
Once again, Japan puts its best players at the top of the list, since the two top spots are occupied by MATSUMOTO Kaori, who won the Masters in Almaty last January, and more recently the Judo Grand Prix, Düsseldorf 2012, and by Aiko Sato. With her victory obtained at the Judo Grand Slam in Paris in early February, Telma MONTEIRO (POR) jumped ahead in the rankings, even if she did not succeed at the Judo Grand Prix in Düsseldorf. Brazil, as in many categories, puts an athlete in the first positions with Rafaela Silva, who is in the fourth position worldwide. With a little bit less than 1,000 points, but still highly ranked, three athletes appear: Sabrina FILZMOSER (AUT), Automne PAVIA (FRA) and Corina CAPRIORIU (ROU), while the reigning Olympic champion, the Italian Giulia QUINTAVALLE, is still present in the top 10. The next Olympic champion could be found among these athletes.
For quite a long time relegated to the second place in the World Ranking List, the double world champion, UENO Yoshie (JPN), took over the top ranking position, after her beautiful victory in Almaty, on the occasion of the Masters. But the current World Champion, the French Gévrise EMANE, had chosen to overlook this event. If all goes well for them, the two athletes who are chasing the Olympic gold may have the opportunity to meet in the final of the Olympics. But Urska ZOLNIR (SLO) and XU Lili (CHN) who have both over 1000 points, will certainly not agree. Slightly further in the ranking list, there is 5 competitors who stand in less than 200 points. But as among these athletes, there is another French (Clarisse AGBEGNENOU) and Dutch Elisabeth WILLEBOORDSE, who are among the top places. For other athletes who want to get an Olympic medal, to directly enter into the Olympic quota.
She certainly has some golden dreams, as she has won everything except the most precious Olympic metal. Lucie DECOSSE (FRA) will, undoubtedly, act as the overwhelming favorite in London. The undisputed world number one and top-notch technician is still perfectible as illustrated by her recent defeat in the Paris Grand Slam final in early February. But the French champion explains, to reassure everybody, that she concedes an average of one defeat per year: "It was in Paris". Will she find on her way to the title, Edith BOSCH (NED), or one of the two Japanese fighters, TACHIMOTO Haruka (winner in Paris) or KUNIHARA Yoriko? Nothing is certain yet. But whatever happens, we can expect some beautiful judo in this category, which has been dominated by DECOSSE for several years. Behind this quartet, which will be reduced to a trio (there are two Japanese and only one will be qualified), the other competitors appear to have somewhat resigned to not having the means to reach the Olympic gold. Nevertheless, the level is very high and surprises are always possible.
Here is a category where the forecasts are very complicated to establish. The world number one, Mayra AGUIAR (BRA), stays on a splendid victory in the Paris Grand Slam (in the presence of the five bests in the world). OGATA Akari (JPN) won the gold medal at the Tokyo Grand Slam, last year. The World Champion in Paris, Audrey TCHEUMEO (FRA), who recovers from an injury, craves to confirm her title, on the top of the Olympic world, as well as the 2010 World Champion and recent winner of the Judo Grand Prix, Düsseldorf 2012, Kayla HARRISON (USA), wants to retake the lead. And what about the fifth in the world, the current Olympic Champion from Beijing, China's YANG Xiuli, and all the other serious contenders for Olympic gold? This category is definitely one of the strongest today.
The category of the women's +78 kg may stay in Asia, the first four places in the world ranking list being occupied by Japan and China. How come could the Olympic title escape from one of these two countries, looking at the results of the Asian athletes during the recent major international competitions? If she is only ranked third in the world, TONG Wen (CHN), the reigning Olympic Champion and World Champion, appears to act as a ambushed favorite, just behind TACHIMOTO Megumi (JPN), while China could play a second card with the World number two, QIN Qian. But QIN should free the way for TONG Wen according to the rule of 'a single athlete per country'. Several athletes from other countries could also take their chance for a medal, such as Lucija POVLANDER (SLO), winner in Düsseldorf in February, or Elena IVASCHENKO (RUS), as well as many others.
Rishod SOBIROV (UZB) will be the major favorite of the Olympic tournament, in London next summer. Indeed, it has almost double the points of his main rival in the world ranking list, the Japanese YAMAMOTO Hirofumi. Still, everything remains open, given the level of competition presented by the challengers of the Uzbek champion. Georgii ZANTARAIA (UKR), 2011 European Champion and bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships, will be one of his main opponents. But HIRAOKA Hiroaki (JPN), Arsen GALSTYAN (RUS), Amiran PAPINASHVILI (GEO) and other fighters like Beslan MUDRANOV or Sofiane MILOUS (FRA), if they are selected by their respective national federations, could also be seen as good candidates for a medal.
Looking at the world rankings, the Olympic result of the category seems very uncertain, since 9 judoka are within 500 points (the number of points awarded on the occasion of a world title). At this game, the current world leader is Musa MOGUSHKOV (RUS), even if he only obtained a fifth place during a major event since the beginning of the year. That was during the Masters in Almaty. His direct contestant is his compatriot, Alim GADANOV, the recent winner of the Judo Grand Prix, Düsseldorf 2012. The 2010 World Champion and bronze medalist at the Athens Olympics in 2004, KHASHBAATAR Tsagaanbaatar (MGL) seems on the rise, while the 2011 World Champion, ABINUMA Masashi (JPN) is still not sure to compete for the supreme title in London, as MORISHITA Jumpei (JPN) can also be qualified. In this particularly competitive situation, whom from Leandro CUNHA (BRA), Rok DRAKSIC (SLO) or CHO Jun-Ho (KOR) will be able to take their chance? Response in late July, in London.
After a slump that cost him the World title and the top world position, last year in Paris (beaten by Ugo LEGRAND, FRA), WANG Ki-Chun, again, seems almost unbeatable since he did not lose any fight since August 2011. Actually, he is the winner of an incredible series: Judo Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi 2011, Asian Championship 2011, Jeju World Cup 2011 (KOR), Judo Grand Prix, Qingdao 2011, Masters 2012 in Almaty, Judo Grand Prix, Düsseldorf 2012. Where will this series be stopped? Wang's competitors obviously would like that it happens during the upcoming Olympic Games. NAKAYA Riki (JPN) who is only 24 points ahead of WANG in the ranking list, Dex ELMONT (NED), AKIMOTO Hiroyuki (JPN), Mansur ISAEV (RUS), SAINJARGAL Nyam-Ochir (MGL), Joao PINA (POR), Navruz JURAKOBILOV (UZB), Dirk VAN TICHELT (BEL), Ugo LEGRAND (FRA) could be some names to be found on the London podium.
The first place in the world ranking list is occupied by an athlete with a 'sparkling' judo, the Brazilian Leandro GUILHEIRO, who is immediately followed by the one who for long held this first position, the Korean KIM Jae-Bum. But Elnur MAMMADLI (AZE), who appears at the third place in the World, would be happy to write for the second time, his name in the history of the Games, especially because, with such a result, he would enter into the closed circle of successful athletes who gained two Olympic titles in two different categories. The coming back of the Olympic Champion of the category, Ole BISCHOF (GER), who has just won the Paris Grand Slam and the Düsseldorf Grand Prix titles, is significant of the level of the men's -81kg. Behind these great names of the Judo world, the race is tough. Sirazhudin MAGOMEDOV (RUS), Travis STEVENS (USA), Ivan NIFONTOV (RUS), Alain SCHMITT (FRA) or Sergiu TOMA (MDA) could be considered as strong candidates for the finish line picture, while Euan BURTON (GBR) could come back to his best level (when he won the Tokyo Grand Slam, two years ago) in front of his public.
The bet of Ilias ILIADIS (GRE) is dared. 8 years after his first Athens Olympic title earned while he was only 17 years of age, he is well positioned for a second coronation, this time in London. Like Elnur MAMMADLI, if he wins in London, it would also be in a different weight category, since in 2004 he got the gold medal in -81kg. However, if he was almost unbeatable after his world title in Paris last August, since then ILIADIS was defeated several times, although he remains among the big favorites of the next summer competition. In his wake, the competition is fierce among the three Japanese, NISHIYAMA Daiki, NISHIYAMA Masashi and ONO Takashi. The latter, who a few months ago excelled by his ease and spectacular judo is now facing strong competition even within Japan, competition that do not guarantee him the Olympic qualification. When one looks at the rest of the world rankings, one can say that the history of the London Games is far from being written down in this very tough category. There will be four athletes to step on podium: four lucky judoka, and many others disappointed.
The -100kg category is also very open and the Olympic title contenders quite numerous. Maxim RAKOV (KAZ), with almost 1500 points in his pocket, appears to be a strong favorite, especially after his great victory obtained in Almaty last January, where he won the Masters title. The one, who is often placed, never crowned, Henk GROL (NED - Vice World Champion, bronze medalist at the Beijing Games in 2008, silver medalist in Almaty) for sure dreams of Olympic gold, as well as the 2010 World Champion, the Japanese Takamasa ANAI, currently on the third position in the world. But what to say about the first Olympic Champion in the history of Mongolia, NAIDAN Tuvshinbayar, who won the title in Beijing in 2008, and who is now coming back a few months prior to the big event? Again, in this category, the forecast is really complicated and there is no doubt that the Olympic tournament will reserve some beautiful surprises and will crown, whatever happens, a great champion.
The French Teddy RINER could have a rendezvous with the history in London. He is the absolute favorite for the Olympic title. 5 times individual World Champion, Team World Champion, bronze medalist in Beijing 2008, eight times winner of major events of the World Judo Tour, European Champion…: these are some of the lines of his record obtained at such a young age. The general opinion agrees that the only one who can beat him, now is himself. Nevertheless, the French giant seems unbeatable, as he has shown and demonstrated at the recent Paris Grand Slam, where his journey throughout the competition resembled a fitness trail. Still, the other fighters are far from having given up, because in sports and judo in particular, everything is possible. The German, Andreas TOELZER, announced he had found the solution to beat RINER. We will know more after the Olympic tournament. Islam AL SHEHABY (EGY), one of the big medal hopes for Africa, is injured and not certain of having recovered to participating in London. Rafael SILVA (BRA), the Masters winner, KIM Sung-Min (KOR), Abdullo TANGRIEV (UZB), the Open World Champion, will be some names that will be followed for the places of honor, or even for the title, if RINER were to stumble, while the Japanese team seems somewhat distanced for the moment.
Text by IJF Media team