It may seem strange that the line-up for the Tokyo Grand Slam on the 3rd and 4th of December has only two world ranked number ones, but what it isn’t showing is the string of Olympic gold medals held by numerous athletes who strategically play the qualification game, or of those making a comeback.
This comeback is very much like the one for the Japanese, aside from the Olympic Games, this is their return to the IJF calendar and a greatly anticipated one it is. For most, it will be the first time returning since the postponed summer games almost a year and a half ago.
So let’s take a look at some potential matches and some of the major players who come to take over Tokyo.
We have half of the current Olympic champions returning to the stage in Tokyo including, ABE Uta (JPN), NAGASE Takanori (JPN), Lasha BEKAURI (GEO), HAMADA Shori (JPN), WOLF Aaron (JPN), SONE Akira (JPN) and Lukas KRPALEK (CZE). From these athletes we expect Olympian style performances, yet as we scroll through the 365 registered names, we have high hopes for younger athletes including the -78kg #8 seed and current world bronze medallist, 18 year-old Yelyzaveta LYTVYNENKO (UKR) who defeated the current Olympic champion Hamada for her world medal in Tashkent.
Even further past that, and in an unseeded capacity in the -90kg category is BAKER Mashu (JPN), the 2016 Olympic champion who has been missing from the tatami since 2019. In fact, it was in this year that he defeated current champion Bekauri for the bronze medal in the Tashkent Grand Prix, right before the Georgian went on to become junior world champion and gold medallist of the Qingdao Masters, notably his expedited rise to glory. To have this pair come head to head would certainly be an interesting one for the fans.
The Georgian women are also out in force this weekend, following a period of training in the host country we will see some of their younger team members join the likes of Eteri LIPARTELIANI (-57kg #1 seed) and Sophio SOMKHISHVILI (+78kg #7 seed).
Speaking of comebacks of the formerly glorious, Kim POLLING (NED) is having her second go on the IJF tour this year following an early exit in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. The Dutch already has an extensive collection of medals on the IJF World Tour and Tokyo was in fact one of her earliest Grand Slam achievements dating back to 2013.
Finally we can confirm, that from now up until the summer games in Paris 2024, eyes will be tracking the development of the French team. Though it might not be their womens A team in Tokyo on this occasion, there are still names to mark for a great performance and more than capable of finding a place on the podium but perhaps the focus will remain more on the men. A slightly disastrous result in Baku recently will have raised concern within the French ranks and a great push will be felt for results to come pouring in and so we see some strong contenders up for the task.
This is however the home of judo and with an entry of 56 athletes from Japan, the rest of the world has their work cut out for them and we wish all the best of luck.
Author: Thea Cowen