TOKYO – Japanese judoka are expected to have a medal race at the Tokyo Olympics, reinforcing the home country’s dominance of the Japanese-born sport to the delight of local fans.
At the 2019 world championships in Tokyo, local judoka won a total of 16 medals, including five gold medals, and second-place France took six with three golds.
Japanese judokas appear poised to repeat the feat at the Games, led by top judoka Shohei Ono, when judo matches take place in Budokan, originally built for judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spectators may not be allowed into the Budokan, known as a concert venue for rock stars such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Cheap Trick, as well as a martial arts hall. .
Against this backdrop, Ono is aiming for a second consecutive Olympic gold in the men’s 73kg category, the most competitive weight division, and his main rival is likely Azerbaijan’s Rustam Orujov, who won silver at Rio 2016.
Other promising home judokas include the Abe brothers: Hifumi and Uta.
Two-time world champion Hifumi has clinched the men’s Olympic spot in the 66kg category after beating a teammate in a dramatic one-shot match.
Her sister Uta has won the last two world titles in the 52kg category, having lost only once, against France’s Amandine Bouchard in 2019, in the last three years.
France appears ready to pose a serious challenge against the local judokas in the singles matches and the co-ed team event that will debut in the games.
Double Olympic champion Teddy Riner, 32, aims to make heavyweight history by claiming a third straight gold, which would equal the record held by the great Japanese judoka Tadahiro Nomura.
France’s women’s team looks particularly strong, with five-time 63kg world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou aiming for her first Olympic gold medal.
Another judoka to watch in Tokyo will be Ukraine’s rising star Daria Bilodid, who has won two world championships and a European title in the 48kg category.
At the Tokyo 2020 Games, a mixed team event will be presented, with teams of three male judokas and three female judokas, drawn from individual competition, with the aim of obtaining the first Olympic team judo medals.
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