The first day of competition had four weight categories on show (-60, -66 men and -78 and +78 women). Three of the four reigning world champions were here in Tokyo taking part in the final Grand Slam of 2009. Yet before the morning session was complete the much-vaunted trio had returned to the warm up area to collect their bags.
First to fall was Ukranian Georgi Zantaraia in probably the most spectacular fashion being thrown not once but twice for waza ari by the youthful and, at this level, inexperienced Ashley McKenzie (GBR). Oblivious to the 199 ranking places that separated the pair, McKenzie displayed lightning speed in the execution of his techniques. Outgunned when at close quarters by the physically stronger Zantaraia, McKenzie made the world champion pay full price for perhaps underestimating his opponent whom he had beaten at the same stage in the world championships in Rotterdam in August. It’s 1-1 between these two at the moment. Expect serious fireworks when and wherever round three takes place.
My sole pick for the day was Masashi Ebinuma (JPN) whose meteoric rise to top-flight international judo continues unabated. Whilst Kim (KOR) worked his way through the lower half of the draw, Ebinuma saw off the yet un-realised promise of J R Badrick (GBR), the emerging talent of Drebot (UKR) before dispatching -66kg world champion Tsaganbaatar Khashbaatar (MGL) who somewhat unluckily found the referee awarding ippon for what he thought was a waza ari. Olympic champion and Ebinuma’s senior team-mate Uchishiba loomed large. But An (KOR) spoiled the party and sent Uchishiba the way of the other big guns throwing him with ko uchi gari for yuko, te guruma for waza ari and then arm locking him with juji gatame. The baggage handlers were busy returning items that their owners had expected to be collecting a little later in the day. Ebinuma, however, not only defeated An but also Kim in the final showing that he is the leading -66kg competitor in Japan at the moment.
Meanwhile the remaining world champion, Marhinde Verkerk (NED) -78kg, was faced with a first round match against newcomer Zhang (CHN). It was the day for newcomers and Verkerk tamely made her way to collect her luggage. An all-Japan final was won by Ogata over Sayaka Anai.
In the +78kg category the absence of world champion Tong Wen (CHN) left the way clear for Maki Tsukada who was untroubled by neither Lee (KOR), or the mighty Sadkowska (POL). Only Tachimoto (JPN), Tsukada’s semi final opponent took her to time. In the final Ivashchenko (RUS) who shows signs of taking over from Donguzashvili as Russian No.1 was no match for the eventual gold medal winner Tsukada.