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World number one Aleksandar Kukolj aiming for title prolongation in Tokyo
1 Dec 2017 14:15
Korea is by far the most successful country winning the Grand Slam title in Tokyo for men. Korean men have captured 11 titles since the first Grand Slam in 2008. Kim SungMin was the most successful wining three editions. Wang Ki-Chun won twice. Still it’s not easy for foreigners to win in the home of judo. Only 16 foreign men won the Grand Slam on Tokyo. Last year Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB) and Kirill Denisov (RUS) were in form.
Two-time and reigning world champion TAKATO Naohisa (JPN) is undefeated this year and is eying his eighth Grand Slam gold medal on day one. The 24-year-old world number one from Tokai University is riding a 14-fight winning-streak and has already won the Tokyo Grand Slam three times. Former world champion GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL), former world silver medallist DASHDAVAA Amartuvshin (MGL), defending Tokyo Grand Slam champion NAGAYAMA Ryuju (JPN) and six-time Grand Slam medallist SHISHIME Toru (JPN) all have the know-how to win the final Grand Slam of 2017 in judo’s homeland.
World champion ABE Hifumi (JPN) has not tasted defeat since 2015 having won a Grand Prix, three Grand Slams and his first World Championships in consecutive events. Japanese prodigy ABE, 20, who was pencilled in as one of the poster boys for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after winning the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics, has won his last 23 fights on the IJF World Judo Tour and 17 of them by ippon. The -66kg category will also contain world bronze medallist Vazha MARGVELASHVILI (GEO), Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist and former world champion AN Baul (KOR) and European champion Georgii ZANTARAIA (UKR) in addition to three more Japanese but only four judoka will make it to the medal podium.
Olympic champion ONO Shohei (JPN) and world champion HASHIMOTO Soichi (JPN), the respective owners of judo’s gold and red backpatches in the -73kg category, are on a collision course as one of the judo’s dream matches is set to be realised on day one in Japan. Two-time world champion ONO, 25, competes for the first time since Rio 2016 while HASHIMOTO, 26, has starred during the absence of his teammate and is unbeaten since 2015. ONO is unseeded due to his seldom appearances before and after the Olympics while HASHIMOTO has excelled in 2016 and 2017. Only one can go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and their bid for a place at a home Olympics will take a major twist if they meet, as expected, at the fifth Grand Slam of the season.
While Japan have won the -73kg world title every year since 2010, it’s not through a lack of world-class judoka or desire from the countries and elite judoka. World bronze medallist GANBAATAR Odbayar (MGL) will hope to do the unthinkable and find a way best the Japanese which will also be the aim of Olympic bronze medallist Dirk VAN TICHELT (BEL).
World number one Frank DE WIT (NED) followed up on his Abu Dhabi Grand Slam win with a disappointing fifth-place at The Hague Grand Prix in November but has made a habit of conjuring up spectacular Grand Slam wins and will be looking for another in Tokyo. South Korea’s Rio 2016 pick LEE Seungsu (KOR) has inevitably struggled to fill the void left by London 2012 Olympic champion KIM Jae-Bum. LEE was fifth at the World Championships in 2015 and second in Tokyo in the same year which was his last IJF World Judo Tour medal. Former world bronze medallist Victor PENALBER (BRA) took bronze at this event in 2012 and needs to get back to that level after missing out on major medals this season.
World number one and European champion Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB) was back amongst the winners at The Hague in November after a noticeable dip in form in the middle half of 2017. KUKOLJ stuttered on the tour between his European Championships victory and winning in The Hague with a fifth-place finish at the Worlds and seventh-place finishes at the Zagreb Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam when he was the favourite to win all three events.
Tashkent Grand Prix winner Komronshokh USTOPIRIYON (TJK) is fighting in Tokyo for the first time and the world number three will be aiming for his first Grand Slam honours. Ekaterinburg Grand Slam winner NAGASAWA Kenta (JPN) took bronze in Tokyo a year ago and will be expected to do better this time around and to make the most of his chances with 23-year-old Olympic champion BAKER Mashu (JPN) yet to compete since Rio 2016.
Openweight World Championships silver medallist Toma NIKIFOROV (BEL) is back to fighting judoka at his own weight after a sensational showing in Morocco which saw him only eclipsed by now 10-time world champion Teddy RINER (FRA). Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) won bronze in Tokyo in 2013 while 19-year-old Paris Grand Slam winner IIDA Kentaro (JPN) almost stole the show on his IJF World Judo Tour a year ago when he took bronze in Tokyo. Tokyo-based Olympian Kyle REYES (CAN) took silver here in 2013 and competes at his local Grand Slam for the first time since 2014 when he finished in seventh-place.
In the men’s heavyweight category the onus is on world number one David MOURA (BRA) to stamp his authority on one of the biggest competitions of the year and to prove he is the man to beat when Teddy RINER (FRA) is absent. World silver medallist MOURA, who was left out of his country’s team for Rio 2016, has won the Cancun Grand Prix and Ekaterinburg Grand Slam this season. Rio 2016 Olympic -100kg champion Lukas KRPALEK (CZE) returns to competition after an ankle injury kept him out of the World Championships while Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Or SASSON (ISR) and Openweight World Championships silver medallist OJITANI Takeshi (JPN) are two very worthy contenders. World bronze medallist NAIDAN Tuvshinbayar (MGL) competes for the second time in 2017 and has shown throughout his career that he overcome any odds and any opposition.
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Enrico Bergamelli (ITA)
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