Ukrainian wonderkid Daria Bilodid will be in action on day one of the Junior World Championships in Nassau. The 18-year-old was crowned senior world champion in the U48kg category in Baku last month and steps down an age group for the junior showpiece event as she chases back-to-back world titles in successive competitions.
Bilodid, who just turned 18, will be sporting her red champion's backpatch for the first time. The Ukrainian talent has won her last seven events and is undefeated since August 2017. The 2018 Junior World Championships will introduce a new generation of future IJF World Judo Tour stars, as the finest young judoka on the planet are set for five days of competition in the Bahamas’ capital city of Nassau.
The competition will be held in the Imperial Ballroom of the Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas resort. The U21 competition has attracted 427 judoka (241 men and 186 women) and 67 nations to the Caribbean island, with 16 individual world champions to be crowned and one nation set to become the Junior World Mixed Team Champion on Sunday, the fifth and final day of action in the Bahamas.
All 67 delegations were in attendance at Tuesday’s draw in the Imperial Ballroom, which will also host the competition for the duration of the week.
Japan will, as expected, provide major firepower in the Bahamas with a 20 athlete-strong team primed to tackle the individual event.
Judo fans will finally get to see Japan’s latest heavyweight hope Saito Tatsuru in an IJF setting. Saito, 16, is the son of the late, great, IJF Hall of Famer Saito Hitoshi, who won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988. Tatsuru will also compete in the upcoming Kodokan Cup competition in Japan, which could see him earn a spot in November’s Osaka Grand Slam, a must-have event on one's resume in order to become a legitimate candidate for Tokyo 2020.
The 6ft 2in heavyweight weighs 155kg and will compete on Saturday, where he will be the favorite despite being one of the youngest judoka in the competition.
Saito Tatsuru is not the only son of a legendary Japanese judoka who has made the trip to the Caribbean. Koga Genki, 19, son of 1992 Olympic champion and three-time world champion Koga Toshihiko, will compete in the U60kg category on day one. The teenager won the Cadet World Championships in 2015 and took bronze at the Junior World Championships last year.
Other youngsters who are primed to shine are top-seeds such as Lois Petit (BEL) in the U44kg category, and those competing in an U48kg division brimming with greedy youngsters that include not only Bilodid, but also Sana Yoshida, Laura Martinez Abelanda, Andrea Stojadinov, and Ekaterina Dolgikh.
Day two may see athletes like Manuel Lombardo of Italy (U66kg) and Bilal Ciloglu of Turkey (U73kg) capture medals. Italy has another medalist prospect in Christian Parlati (U81kg). In the female divisions, the Ballhaus sisters of Germany are ready to bring home world junior medals, and Japanese Haruka Funakubo is a strong contender in U57kg.
Tough European teams from Germany, the Netherlands, and Serbia will be present, in addition to significant medal opportunities for Brazil, Croatian women, the Georgian men, and Austria’s Stephan Hegyi, who competes on the last day of the individual tournament.
The Junior World Championships will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, so sit tight this week and follow the coverage.