It has been five years since we allowed ourselves to make imminent predictions about who the future Olympic Champions will be. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games has made the judo community hungrier than ever for the magic we will undoubtedly see on the tatami this month.
First we will look at the day one athletes in the -48kg and -60kg categories.
A hot topic in the lightweight women’s division is Daria BILODID (UKR). Perhaps in the run up to the games which were due to take place in 2020 there was little question that she would be seen in the final, securing a gold medal and in turn completing her collection of major championship titles, but this delay has thrown this assumption in to question.
Since 2020, the chaser, Distria KRASNIQI (KOS) has become the dominant leader. Taking her third Masters gold at the start of 2021 and European title in April, she seems unwavering. Though a head to head would have been exciting in Lisbon, Daria withdrew from the tournament and we are left waiting to see how a match up in Tokyo will go down.
Of course they aren’t the only potentials for the -48kg category. There is up and comer Shirine BOUKLI (FRA) who took advantage of the postponement and jumped up the ranking to qualify and with her results, making it clear who the French choice should be for Tokyo but she will also be contending with the 2021 World bronze medallist, Julia FIGEROA (ESP), not to mention the host representative, double world champion, TONAKI Funa and world champion, MUNKHBAT Uranktsetseg (MGL).
Following the announcement of the Russian Judo Federation team, we know that current World Champion Yago ABULADZE will need to start over again in the next cycle to take his place in Paris 2024, but for Tokyo, the decision was made to take 2019 world silver medallist, Robert MSHVIDOBADZE. The pair have gone head to head on numerous occasions since we returned from the Covid break and it was MSHVIDOBADZE who came out on top despite Abuladze claiming the 2021 world title.
As if the national competition wasn’t hard enough, the RJF competitor will need to contend with a strong European force including the 2021 world bronze medallists from Spain and Azerbaijan, current European champion, Francisco GARRIGOSand Karamat HUSEYNOV, not to mention the 2019 world champion, Lukhumi CHKHVIMANI (GEO).
Europe have a heavy-hitting group in this category, with the likes of Tornike TSJAKADOEA (NED) and Luka MKHEIDZE (FRA) also looking to make an impact and add their names to the Olympic history books, but like in the women -48kg category, the other continental threat is huge.
TAKATO Naohisa (JPN) is leading the charge for the hosts with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Korea all within the top eight.
It will be an exciting first day of the Olympic Games and though there are strong medal hopes, the fact of the matter is, this is judo. Anything can happen on the day and we’ll be waiting to find out who the big surprises are.
Author: Thea Cowen