On the second day of the Junior World Championships 2023, Europe once again had three chances to take world titles. Yesterday there was no stopping the Japanese wave wiping out all of their final opponents, topping the medal table and setting the standard for this years prime judo event. However on day two, the European finalists put an end to their campaign.
Veronica TONIOLO (ITA) was the first to dam the wave, taking the gold medal in the -57kg category. There was only one goal for the Grand Prix and Grand Slam medallist, and that was to win this title. the Italian has a habit of collecting major titles and this was her final opportunity as a junior to complete the collection. In 2019 she earned herself both a European and world title as a cadet, and this year repeated the success story, much to the delight of her family, mother in the from row in the stands, and father Raffaele in the coaching chair. This has become a real family affair and a tremendous story for the Italian team who have been smashing records year upon year.
I was really happy with my performance today, I think I have improved a lot and scored ippon twice in ne waza. This was my last chance as I am last year junior so the only option was gold, now my focus is on seniors but it was a good day, the final was tough and my strategy was not to do classical judo, the Japanese are the best at it! I saw that the Brazilian almost beat her and it was a very tactical match so I knew what I had to do, in the end the most important thing for me is to win. Yes I love judo and an ippon or waza ari feels really good, but the goal is the goal always.
In the final, Toniolo was faced with yet another Japanese blockade; this time in the form of current Cadet World Champion, HONDA Riko. Right from the get go, Toniolo controlled the pace of the contest and was very direct in what she needs, grips, stance, and attack, however the pair ran in to golden score and their condition was tested. Eventually both were fighting with two shidos and a tactical game ensued, won by Toniolo as she once again dominated on the grips and Honda put in a false attack, feeling the threat of the Italian. The win of course was hugely celebrated and she can now return to focus on her senior career.
The Japanese takeover was halted due to a semi final win in the -73kg semi final by Jack YONEZUKA (USA) who took on the current Junior European bronze medallist Vusal GALANDARZADE (AZE) for the world title. In a similar fate, the two finalists hit the four minute regular time marker following a close contest. However only ten seconds later, Galandarzade doubled Europe’s gold loot with a wonderful drop seoi nage to score ippon and become the junior world champion. Unfortunately for the Azeri athlete, he was unable to defend his Junior European title from 2022 and was forced to settle for third place in The Hague, but he more than made up for it today.
Wrapping up the second day of individual competition was Melkia AUCHECORNE (FRA), the top seed in the -63kg, against TAKAKI Mizuki (JPN). This was the first opportunity for Takaki to compete on the international stage and impressed from the very start however she was struggling in the final against the strength of the Frenchwoman, hitting a brick wall when looking for grips.
Auchecorne has already experienced the final block of a junior worlds, taking bronze in Guayaquil last year and today made certain she would improve on that result. After taking the silver in the Junior European Championships this year, she left with a bittersweet taste and so of course she wanted the gold.
After I watched that contest back [European final] I knew I could do so much better, my preparation was to stop being so stressed and just enjoy my day, and I really did today. Actually that final technique is how I won the world bronze medal last year! I didn’t know it was going to score but I was hoping [she laughs].
The technique of course was a driving seoi nage, approaching from the side, which moved Takaki a few times during the contest, then eventually scored in the golden score time period. This is the first gold medal for France in the tournament and pushed the team up to fourth place in the medal table.
Despite Japan not taking any of the gold medals today, they still sit atop of the table with their four wins yesterday, but for now we can celebrate the tremendous performance of the European talents from Azerbaijan, Italy and France.
Tomorrow the -70kg, -81kg and -90kg will look for new world champions, leading the -81kg category is Vugar TALIBOV (AZE), the vice junior European champion and for -90kg, current junior European champion, Bright MADDALONI NOSA (ITA). For the women’s category, Madagascar representative Aina Laura RASOANAIVO RAZAFY is leading the charge, winner of both the junior and senior African Championships this year.
Author: Thea Cowen