The universal strengths of judo were illustrated on and off the tatami at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, providing a tantalising glimpse of the sport’s most impressive qualities, which will return to Nippon Budokan for the Olympic Games in less than 12 months.
With 142 nations represented amongst the 828 competitors and 25 different countries securing a spot on the podium, the World Championships provided a snapshot of a global sporting movement that continues to expand in terms of its appeal and coverage.
More than 500 members of the media were accredited for the event, with journalists from across the globe following the exploits of the sport’s leading stars.
“The number of countries that won a medal was very high, generating a lot of media attention across the five continents,” says Nicolas Messner, the International Judo Federation’s media and Judo for Peace programme director.
“The format of the competition, the presence of a refugee team for the first time at the World Championships, the pre-event activities including the IJF Congress, the Art Exhibition and the Gala also generated a lot of media attention.”
The highly-competitive nature of the competition was demonstrated by the relatively few world champions who were able to retain their crown.
In the women’s competition, only three of the seven competitors who claimed gold last year were able to hold on to their titles – Daria Bilodid of Ukraine, Abe Uta of Japan and Clarisse Agbegnenou of France. And in the men’s competition, it was a clean sweep of new world champions.
Bilodid’s second successive gold medal in the -48kg set the tone for the spectacular stories to follow, with fellow teenager Uta also returning to the top of the podium with a dominant display at -52kg on day two.
Home fans were able to celebrate gold medals in the women’s competition for Akira Sone (+78kg) and in the men’s competition for Joshiro Maruyama (-66kg) and Shohei Ono (-73kg), who confirmed his status as the world’s best judoka.
The home country’s influence even extended to other champions, including Canada’s Christa Deguchi, who started her career in Japan and claimed the women’s world title in the -57kg category.
The French also swept up gold medals on three consecutive days in the women’s competition, with Madeleine Malonga (-78kg) and Marie Ève Gahié (-70kg) joined at the top of the podium by Agbegnenou, whose epic victory over home favourite Tashiro Miku was hailed as a classic encounter.
Amongst the other stand-out performers were Noël van ‘t End, who emerged as a breakthrough champion in the men’s -90kg category and helped to push on his native Netherlands to collect a total of four medals. Meanwhile Jorge Fonseca, who has battled cancer, won gold for Portugal in the men’s -100kg, and Lukáš Krpálek of the Czech Republic became the first athlete to have been world champion in men’s +100kg and -100kg categories.
To wrap up an enthralling World Championships, Japan beat France in a nail-biting mixed team event final on the closing day to record a third consecutive title.
“After eight days, everybody agreed that the level of organisation and the competition that was delivered was of a very high standard,” says Messner, who adds that it is “absolutely guaranteed” that the event has whetted the appetite for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Television graphics that are “more dynamic, clear and understandable” were fully introduced after having been partially tested during the Budapest Grand Prix earlier in the summer, while the “acclaimed” 4DREPLAY system was used for the first time to display the action in 360 degrees on big screens at the venue and from afar. “Everything went very smoothly, from a general point of view to the smallest details,” he says.
“The level of organisation and competition took judo to another level. With the sport being back home and the incredible stories that were written during the whole week, the appetite for judo is growing and will continue to grow through to next year’s Olympic Games.
“We are on the road to Tokyo 2020, but moreover we are on the road to bring judo to new heights.”