In 2022, Japan took 13 of the 14 gold medals available in the Tokyo Grand Slam. Today was the first day of the competition where the rest of the world came to prove their worth in the home of judo, and hopefully, disrupt the success of the host nation.
The -57kg category already managed to succeed to level the record of last year, preventing Japan from taking a place in the final, and although the ranking – and recent history – predicted an all-Canadian final between Jessica KLIMKAIT (#2) and Christa DEGUCHI (#1), only the latter succeeded. Klimkait suffered defeat to Jessica LIMA (BRA), creating an all-Panamerican final instead. In the end, it was less than a minute of contest time, an o soto gari scoring ippon for Deguchi.
Though the Japanese team had their first chance for a gold medal in the -73kg category, HASHIMOTO Soichi was unable to take down the world ranked number one, Hidayat HEYDAROV (AZE). It was no small feat for the Azeri athlete as the pair headed in to golden score, but some reactive te waza from Heydarov scored a winning waza ari, continuing his golden streak.
Sanne VAN DIJKE (NED) had an incredible day and crowned herself the Tokyo Grand Slam champion, defeating the host representative TANAKA Shiho. The number one seed and Masters champion secured her place in the final with a win against Ai TSUNODA ROUSTANT (ESP) but it was after two minutes of golden score against Tanaka that she gave her last ounce of power. A huge ura nage in a last ditch attempt scored waza ari, all she needed to take this unbelievable grand slam gold.
It has been a rough road for Matthias CASSE (BEL) in the run up to this grand slam event, failing to make it on to the podium, quite surprisingly in the most recent European Championships. Nevertheless he was back on form today and steadily made his way in to the -81kg final against LEE Joonhwan (KOR). In the end, it didn’t go in favour of the Belgian athlete, with a score earned by Lee, but after a long series of events this year, leaving with a silver medal in the Tokyo Grand Slam is a nice way to finish.
Even in the absence of France’s top seed in the +78kg category, the team still found a place in the final with Lea FONTAINE. She met the two time junior world champion, ARAI Mao for the gold medal. Eventually in golden score, Arai secured a score and finished in osaekomi to take the first gold medal for the host team.
After a disaster in the European Championships just last month, Luka MAISURADZE (GEO) was looking for a major comeback and he did just that in the -90kg category. The current world champion saw out the likes of Marcus NYMAN (SWE), Erlan SHEROV (KGZ) and finally GWAK Donghan (KOR) for his place in the final, a seriously tough line up. Competing for the gold medal was MURAO Sanshiro (JPN), leading Maisuradze in to golden score, and forced the Georgian to pick up two shidos. It was simply a case of waiting for the right time, and a beautiful uchi mata brought Japan the second gold medal on day one.
In the end, Japan finished top of the medal table, but not as strong as many assumed, with the remaining gold medals shared between Azerbaijan, Netherlands, Canada and the Republic of Korea.
Author: Thea Cowen