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No end in sight to Japan’s male heavyweight drought

2 Oct 2018 13:00

 by Mark Pickering - IJF    Robert Danis

Japan last held the men’s heavyweight world crown in 2013. Their 15-year wait for a champion is their one weakness at the elite level. Muneta Yasuyuki was the last man to hold the title and did so at home in Osaka in 2003. Japan has won all 13 other titles since then and have had a stranglehold of many categories such as U73kg.

The heavyweight category has a special status in Japan with many of their most celebrated champions coming from this category such as IJF Hall of Famers Yamashita Yasuhiro and Saito Hitoshi.   

The All Japan Openweight Championships is the pride and joy of the Japanese competition scene and its iconic one mat setup in the Nippon Budokan.   

All the winners of this event in recent years have been awarded with the opportunity to compete at the highest level on the IJF World Judo Tour but all have fallen at the World Championships and Olympics.   

Baku 2018 was supposed to be different. With Teddy Riner absent from the heavyweight competition in Azerbaijan the onus was on Japan’s two heavyweight picks to prove their worth and go out and rule the category.  

Tokyo Grand Slam winner Ogawa Yusei was eliminated in round three while Olympic silver medallist Harasawa Hisayoshi was shocked by Ulziibayar Duurenbayar (MGL) in the quarter-finals. All Japan Openweight Championships gold medallist Harasawa came back to win bronze but did little to stake his claim for Tokyo 2020.  

Harasawa won world bronze

Japan has an alternative. It's a race against time but they have a young man with judo in his genes and who is blessed with the size, frame and agility that has seen him earmarked by high-ranking officials in Japan as their great heavyweight hope.    

Kokushikan University member Saito Tatsuru, 16, the son of the late Saito Hitoshi, double Olympic gold medallist and world champion, has been picked for the Junior World Championships later this month in the Bahamas.   

Tatsuru stands at 6ft 2in and weighs 155kg and has years of growth ahead of him. The golden rookie will be making his IJF debut after an introduction to the international stage in April when he won a Junior European Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia, with four ippons from four contests.   

The teenager will fight at the Kodokan Cup, a qualification event for the Osaka Grand Slam 2018, in early November and a strong performance there would secure a berth for the fifth and final Grand Slam of the season. 

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  • Hisayoshi Harasawa (JPN) - Grand Slam Paris (2015, FRA) - © Klaus Müller, Watch:
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  • Hitoshi Saito (JPN) - World Championships Juniors Paris (2009, FRA) - © Andre de Heus

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