It was a surprising final for women U57kg at the third day of the Olympic Games in Tokyo with Kosovo that waved the flag another time, their second gold medal in three days as Nora Gjakova was the best of the day after two surprising semi finals.
In the women's division, a victory for Japan was a serious option but the main favourite came from Canada with an expected victory for Jessica Klimkait but all forecasts were wrong. Klimkait was surprised by Sarah Leonie Cysique of France who won after three penalties for Klimkait. Cysique qualified for the final and took the third medal for the French team.
In the final two styles clashed in the Nippon Budokan. With her strong left handed kumi-kata, Cysique seemed to impose her power quickly, despite her smaller size. Trying to put Gjakova off balance with her capacity to move from right to left at speed, Cysique suddenly made a mistake that cost her the title. In an attempt to throw, she dived on her head, which is forbidden. The referee stopped the match and sought confirmation from the replay and supervisors. The fault was obvious and Cysique was disqualified, against the trend of the final, but simply a rule when if comes to the safety of the athletes.
Gjakova signs her name on a second title for Kosovo; an incredible result for the Balkan country with its super coach Driton Kuka. Winner Nora Gjakova said, "It was not the most beautiful contest but it does not matter, the most important was to win. I want to thank Majlinda Kelmendi. She started the path, she supported all of us. Without her Krasniqi’s gold and my gold would have never happened."
Majlinda Kelmendi reacted, "I saw all her contests today. From the first one I thought that today will be her day", while Driton Kuka said, "Kosovo is a small country but a huge judo nation."
Sarah Cysique declared, "I need to see the pictures because I did not do anything wrong. I even thought she would receive shido so I was shocked when the referee pointed at me. I respect the decision but I want to see the action again."
The favourites claim bronze instead of a final
Eteri Liparteliani may have hoped for a better outcome after an outstanding competition day but Yoshida Tsukasa (JPN), who didn't reach the final, despite expectation, she secured the bronze medal with two waza-ari, to add one more medal to the Japanese tally.
It took a while for Jessica Klimkait (CAN) to be able to smile again after her defeat in the semi-final. The beginning of the bronze medal match was tense. She finally scored a waza-ari with her brand of seoi-nage. It was not the expected colour for the Canadian. Still it’s also a first women’s Olympic medal in judo for Canada. Klimkait said: "I won’t say I’m tired since Budapest. That was six weeks ago. No excuses. Everything was set here and I was ready to win. I don’t know what happened. It’s the first time a Canadian woman has ever won an Olympic medal and I’m really proud of my accomplishment. I want to share it with my family and friends and all the coaches who have supported me."
Semi finals with the big girls
Until the semi-final the names you’d expect qualified for the semi-finals. In the top half of the draw, world number one and recent world champion, Jessica Klimkait confirmed her good physical and mental condition of Budapest a month ago, after having defeated, without any problem, Ivelina Ilieva (BUL) and Julia Kowalczyk (POL) during the first two rounds.
The journey was a little bit more difficult for the French fighter Sarah Leonie Cysique, who had to come through strong battles, especially against Eteri Liparteliani in the quarter-final, who was the first to score a waza-ari before Cysique then scored twice. Limping at the end of the match, the French judoka certainly enjoyed the break to recover for what was one of the most important matches of her career. It is guaranteed that on her side Jessica Klimkait wanted to prove that the choice made by Judo Canada to bring her to Tokyo instead of Crista Deguchi was the right one.
The semi final Klimkait had her tactical plan in mind and she was sticking to it: moving in large circles and launching her low seoi-nage, even if it is often at the limit of the false attack rule. On the other side, the French fighter had to stay strictly left-handed and go over the Canadian when the latter was on her knees, to either go for the uchi-mata or the counter attack in the other direction. Neither one of them could throw during normal or extra time, but penalties were given. First two to Klimkait, for false attacks and then to Cysique for passivity, which was relative, seeing the pace of the match. The third penalty went ultimately to Klimkait for another false attack that cost her the ticket to the final and offered a second final in a row for team France after the performance of Buchard on day two.
In the second half of the draw the semi-final brought together Tsukasa Yoshida (JPN), who discretely passed all the preliminary rounds without too much noise, with Nora Gjakova (KOS), super-motivated by the performance of Distria Krasniqi on day one of the Olympic tournament. She went through the first matches with ease and power.
Gjakova on steam
As the semi-final started it looked like Gjakova might have issues with the perfect left uchi-mata of the Japanese, who made the Kosovan take-off from the tatami several times, but Gjakova was still there in the golden score period and when she launched a ko-soto-gake from nowhere, she threw Yoshida for a waza-ari and the stadium suddenly became quiet. Yes, for the second time in three days, Kosovo put an athlete in the final. Kelmendi can be proud of her heritage.
Julia Kowalczyk (POL) was the executioner of several veterans of the category today, who probably participated in their last Olympic Games. After Tokyo 2020, some athletes will stop competing at the highest level, while a new generation of competitors will show their faces.
Polish Kowalczyk was still present in the repechage after she was defeated by Klimkait. She faced Eteri Liparteliani (GEO). It took more than 7 minutes (4+3) to Liparteliani to score a waza-ari to keep her Olympic medal dream alive.
Timna Nelson Levy had several tough bouts during the morning session but she managed to get to the repechage hoping for a new chance of a medal for team Israel, after the fifth place of Rishony on day one of the Games. She was up against to Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia to access the bronze medal contests. With two shido on her name, the Slovenian was in a bod position on the golden score, when Nelson Levy made a mistake and was thrown for waza-ari, destroying her last hope to get onto the podium.
Another great gold medal for Kosovo and three fingers in the air by Driton Kuka: Kelmendi 2016, Krasniqi 2020 and Gjakova in 2020.