There was hardly enough time for the dust to settle after the defeat by KAGEURA Kokoro (JPN) of Teddy RINER (FRA) in Paris in February before the global shutdown ensued. Riner, as many speculated at the time, was ill prepared and, with hindsight, possibly ill advised to compete in Paris. Any thoughts that Kageura was the super-heavyweight Japan had been looking for were short-lived however; as Kageura, unable to sustain the momentum, went on to suffer defeat in the final of the Paris Grand Slam at the hands of Henk GROL (NED).
Leaving aside the very rarely held Open category, if there is one weight category that the Japanese covet more than any other then it is the +100kg or super-heavyweight. One consequence of the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is that they [the Japanese] now have more time to either prepare Kageura for a successful challenge for the ultimate prize or to reenergize 2016 Rio silver medal winner HARASAWA Hisayoshi (JPN) for another “crack” at Riner et al in 2021.
Apart from a very few exceptions, France and Japan have pretty much had a monopoly in the super-heavyweights, winning 10 of the 13 Olympic titles in the category. Yet there are far more possible match-ups than those between Riner and whomsoever the Japanese put forward. What is fascinating is just how the postponement is likely to prove to all concerned. Take for example the abovementioned Grol who has rekindled the glory days of Anton GEESINK (NED) and Willem RUSKA (NED) the Dutch super-heavyweights (Ok, so Geesink won the Open weight category in 1964 in Tokyo). That is quite apart from the entertaining and unpredictable Roy MEYER (NED) who remains well in contention; he is in fact higher ranked than Grol.
There can be no discussion of the category without giving serious consideration to 2018 world champion Guram TUSHISHVILI (GEO). His two match-ups with Riner have both been exciting and lived up to expectations. But, like Riner, the Georgian has also had plenty of time away from the tatami and will undoubtedly benefit from the postponement. Tushishvili could follow in the footsteps of Georgian David KHAKHALEISHVILI (EUN) who won the title at the 1992 Barcelona Games whilst competing for the Unified Team after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Lukas KRPALEK is celebrating his 2nd world champion title in Tokyo 2019. – Rafal Burza
Emanuele Di Feliciantonio
Lukas KRPALEK against Tamerlan BASHAEV in the final at the European Judo Championships 2018. – Carlos Ferreira
In a similar position with regard to needing that little bit more time for preparation is current world champion Lukas KRPALEK (CZE). His arrival in the category is yet another indication that there are quite a number of heavyweights capable of making the transition to super-heavyweight without too much trouble. He has settled very quickly and is 1-1 against Harasawa, and 3-1 against Kageura. For the time being, Riner remains the stumbling block and he is 0-2 against the Frenchman.
Inal TASOEV – Emanuele Di Feliciantonio
Sticking with the super-heavyweight powerhouses Russia is still searching for someone to bring them the title that was last won by a Russian, Serhiy NOVIKOV (URS), when the Soviet Union was in its heyday. That win came at the 1976 Montreal Games since which time the Russians have come close twice with silver medals for Tamerlan TEMENOV (RUS) in Athens 2004 and Alexander MIKHAILIN (RUS) London 2012. Once again, time is a key factor here as none of the three Russians in contention (Inal TASOEV, Anton KRIVOBOKOV and Tamerlan BASHAEV) gives the impression of being at their peak.
As an outside bet (having already collected two bronze medals) Rafael SILVA (BRA) may cause some interest with those who like to take a chance on long odds, and he is a genuine super-heavyweight. But, for the most part, the main event will feature those from the above list, none of whom were really ready or at their peak and all will likely be grateful of more time; Riner included.
Author: Sheldon Franco Rooks