The competition for that single spot at the Olympic Games U78kg in France is hot. After the IJF Judo World Masters in Doha Madeleine Malonga is without a doubt one of the great favourites of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She is the current world champion and she once again entered the final of a major international event, after climbing through the first rounds without shaking, winning all her three matches by ippon.
It's quite impressive, especially when you see that France can align two more top level athletes in the same category, even if Malonga's teammates, Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA) and Fanny Estelle Posvite (FRA) were not at their best level today.
In the final U78kg in Doha, the French fighter was up against Hamada Shori (JPN), who also had a perfect start to the day, with three victories by ippon. An interesting final as it was the remake of the 2019 World Championships final, won by Malonga; not easy when we realise that Hamada was the 2018 world champion. For sure, those two athletes are the best of the moment.
In less than thirty seconds, Malonga took a clear advantage by engaging an unstoppable right o-soto-gari, which was not lacking much to be counted as an ippon. In the following sequence, the Frenchwoman was surprised by an impeccable tactic from the Japanese judoka on the ground, but she came out almost miraculously to resume the thread of the final and finally control the bout until the end. Malonga could eventually let out a big smile for this first Masters title of her career. It was a shame, even for Malonga, to see that Hamada finished her day with an injury to the knee, but as always Malonga responded with kindness and professionalism, in the spirit of fair play.
The first bronze medal was contested by the two Dutch athletes, Marhinde Verkerk (NED) and Guusje Steenhuis (NED). Knowing one another perfectly meant an almost inevitable liaison golden score. After almost five minutes of extra time, it was Guusje Steenhuis who scored a liberating waza-ari to win bronze which will bring her closer to Tokyo after a tiring injury.
We found for the second fight-off for third place the young Kosovan Loriana Kuka against the experienced Natalie Powell (GBR). For the second match in a row, the winner was decided in golden score as Kuka and Powell did not find the solution during regular time, to score. Both left-handed, they tried to engage in a movement that was finally effective. It was Kuka who had the edge and eventually took the chance with a masterful koshi-guruma for ippon.