2019 Judo World Championships - the things you need to know

The best judokas in the world are in action from 25 August to 1 September at the iconic Nippon Budokan in Tokyo for an event that doubles as a 2020 Olympic test.

By Alessandro Poggi

Judo is coming home.

From 25 August to 1 September, the best judokas on the planet will meet at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, the country where the martial art was invented in 1882 by Jigoro Kano.

The week-long competition will also serve as a Tokyo 2020 test event at the iconic Nippon Budokan, the judo venue used for the 1964 Olympic Games.

A total of 863 athletes from 149 countries are due to take part, with Japan, Brazil, China, Germany, Mongolia, Portugal, Russia, and South Korea sending the maximum quota of 18 judokas apiece.

For the first time an eight-member Refugee Olympic Team will also be involved.

Expectations for the host nation will be high after Japan dominated the 2018 edition in Baku, Azerbaijan, taking eight golds out of a possible 17 in 15 events.

Olympic champion Shohei Ono, widely considered the best pound-for-pound judoka in the world, and Tokyo 2020 poster girl Uta Abe lead the home team.

Ukraine's teen sensation Daria Bilodid, and Olympic champions Rafaela Silva of Brazil and Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo are among the stars to watch on the women's side.

Georgia's Guram Tushishvili defends his title in the men's +100kg with 10-time world champion Teddy Riner skipping the event for the second consecutive year.

Rio 2016 -100kg gold medallist Lukas Krpalek of the Czech Republic will be among those trying to stake a claim to Riner's crown with less than a year to go to Tokyo 2020.

The 30-year-old Frenchman, who successfully returned to competition at the Montreal Grand Prix in July, still needs to qualify before going for a hat-trick of Olympic titles.

Nippon Budokan, an iconic venue

Tokyo hosted the first two Judo World Championships in 1956 and 1958, although the first women's event was not until 1980.

Nearby Chiba staged the competition in 1995, with Osaka the other Japanese host city in 2003, before the Worlds returned to Tokyo in 2010.

But this will be the first time the tournament will be held at the Nippon Budokan, or simply Budokan, which translates into English as 'Martial Arts Hall'.

The city-centre indoor arena holds around 14,000 fans. It was built for judo at the 1964 Games and is home to Japan's national championships of the martial arts, judo, karate, kendo, and aikido.

"When I first went to the Nippon Budokan as a high school student, I was in awe. When judo people from overseas come to the Budokan, they all speak about how distinct the atmosphere is." - 1984 Olympic gold medallist Yasuhiro Yamashita to Olympic Channel

The Budokan is also a popular venue for Japanese professional wrestling, sumo, UFC, kick boxing, and boxing bouts, and hosted the hybrid fight between Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976.

It also staged the 1967 Women's Volleyball World Championships, with Tina Turner, the Beatles, and Beyonce among the many world-renowned musical artists who have performed there.

Nippon Budokan

All eyes on home judokas

Japan are used to dominating judo competitions.

They have won 354 medals - 153 of them gold - in the history of the World Championships, more than double the tally of France, who are next on 171.

With the World Championships and the Olympics taking place in Japan in the space of less than 12 months, these are exciting times for local judokas, although they will have to cope with enormous pressure from the home crowd and media.

Olympic Channel spoke to some of the nation's best athletes in late June when they spoke of their excitement about the year ahead.

Reigning women's world -52kg champion Uta Abe said, "This year’s World Championships are the most important event looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics so I need to make it count. I try not to think too much so things don’t get to me."

As a current world and Olympic champion, Shohei Ono carries huge expectation going into the next two global events.

"I’m fully aware there will be a lot of pressure but I also know it’s that type of pressure which can bring out the best in me." - Shohei Ono to Olympic Channel on 2019 World Champs

Hisayoshi Harasawa lost out to Teddy Riner in the Rio 2016 +100kg final, and was narrowly defeated by the Frenchman on his comeback in Montreal in June.

With Riner not at the World Championships, the 27-year-old has a chance to claim his first global title, but he says, ""I want to use it as a springboard for next year’s Olympics."

Harasawa and Sarah Asahina will help Japan defend their mixed team time from Baku 12 months ago, with Asahina bidding to retain her +78kg world title.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me." - Sarah Asahina, 2018 world champion

Sarah Asahina (R) fights Akira Sone in the final of the All Japan Women's Championships in April 2019

Exciting rivalries

The World Championships will be an important test, for the athletes and the venue, ahead of Tokyo 2020.

France's Clarisse Agbegnenou and Slovenia's Tina Trstenjak are ready to renew acquaintances in the women's -63kg, with Cuba's London 2012 gold medallist Idalys Ortiz hoping for revenge on Asahina from last year's +78kg final.

The women's -57kg looks open too with Brazil's in-form Olympic champion Rafaela Silva seeking to regain the title she previously won in 2013, although reigning champ Tsukasa Yoshida will put up a strong challenge on home soil.

Kelmendi vs. Abe?

One of the highlights of the tournament could be the long-awaited showdown between Uta Abe and Majlinda Kelmendi in the women's -52kg category.

Abe won gold at last year's World Championships with Kosovo's Rio 2016 gold medallist and double world champion missing Baku through injury.

The two have never met in competition, with the 19-year-old reigning world champion seeded two behind France's bronze medallist from last year, Amandine Buchard.

Kelmendi is seeded six.

Abe told Olympic Channel, "I’ve never faced Kelmendi but I want to beat her more than anyone else. She’s very strong and is the one to beat for me.

"Her power stands out to me more than anyone. I will go into the match believing I will win no matter what.

"I think at 52 kg, everyone would say Kelmendi is number one so I need to overcome her and prove to everyone that I’m the strongest." - Uta Abe to Olympic Channel.

After her gold at the European Games in Minsk, Belarus, Kelmendi said, "I’m looking forward to it. Abe emerged on the world stage when I got injured and until today we haven't fought each other.

"She’s quite good, she has amazing throwing skill, but I’m good too, so I guess it will be a strong fight." - Majlinda Kelmendi on her potential clash with Uta Abe.

A team of refugees

The newborn judo Refugee Olympic Team will compete at the World Championships for the first time.

There were due to be nine judokas in the team but Zaki Mohsin, originally from Afghanistan, had to pull out injured.

That leaves eight - seven men and one woman - including five athletes who have fled Syria, one from Iran, a Russian refugee in the United States and DR Congo escapee Popole Misenga who competed at Rio 2016.

They are part of a project, run by the Intenational Judo Federation (IJF), to support athletes as they try to make the step into world class competition.

The IJF refugee and young immigrants project was announced ahead of the Budapest Grand Prix in July and initially involves 50 seniors and 10 juniors.

Refugee Olympic Team at the 2019 Judo World Championships:

Country of origin: DR Congo

Popole Misenga (-90kg)

Country of origin: Iran

Mohammad Rashnonezhad (-60kg)

Country of origin: Russia

Sariuna Tsyzhipova (-48kg)

Country of origin: Syria

Mohamad Akkash (-60kg), Ahmad Alikaj (-73kg), Fares Badawi (-73kg), Odai Al Mawarde (-81kg), Adnan Khankan (-100kg)

A taste of Tokyo 2020

The whole competition will serve as a test event and preview for next year's Olympic Games.

There is one addition to the Olympic programme from Rio 2016, the mixed team event, which is making its third appearance in the World Championships.

Japan will be hoping to complete a hat-trick of victories in Tokyo before taking gold next year.

Teams of six judokas, three men and three women, go head-to-head with a tiebreak bout required if it finishes 3-3.

As well as defending her -57kg world title, Tsukasa Yoshida will bid for a third straight gold in the mixed team event.

She told Olympic Channel, "At first, it felt awkward, but it’s unique. You’re on your own when you take the mat but it’s interesting because you have people behind you who can offer various perspectives."

"It is an opportunity to join forces with others who compete for their country. It’s an event in which everyone comes together." - Tsukasa Yoshida on the mixed team event

There will be 12 countries in the mixed team event at Tokyo 2020.

Competition will be fierce for places in the individual tournaments with just one athlete per weight class permitted per country.

The top 18 eligible judokas in the world rankings for each division on 25 May 2020 will qualify for the Olympic Games.

Schedule - 2019 Judo World Champs, Tokyo

Sunday 25 August: Women: -48kg Men: -60Kg

Women -48kg:
- World champion - Daria Bilodid (UKR),
- Olympic champion - Paula Pareto (ARG),
- Top seed - Funa Tonaki (JAP).
Men -60kg:
- World champion - Naohisa Takato (JPN),
- Olympic champion - Beslan Mudranov (RUS),
- Top seed - Robert Mshvisobadze (RUS).

Monday 26 August: Women: -52kg Men: -66k

Women -52kg:
- World champion - Uta Abe (JPN),
- Olympic champion - Majlinda Kelmendi (KOS),
- World ranking leader - Amandine Buchard (FRA).
Men -66kg:
- World champion - Hifumi Abe (JAP),
- Olympic champion - Fabio Basile (ITA),
- World ranking leader - Vazha Margvelashvili (GEO).

Tuesday 27 August: Women: -57kg Men: -73kg

Women -57kg:
- World champion - Tsukasa Yoshida (JAP),
- Olympic champion - Rafaela Silva (BRA),
- World ranking leader - Tsukasa Yoshida (JAP).
Men -73kg:
- World champion - An Chang-rim (KOR),
- Olympic champion - Shohei Ono (JAP),
- World ranking leader - Rustam Orujov (AZE).

Wednesday 28 August: Women: -63kg Men: -81kg

Women -63kg:
- World champion - Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA),
- Olympic champion - Tina Trstenjak (SLO),
- World ranking leader - Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA).
Men -81kg:
- World champion - Saeid Mollaei (IRI),
- Olympic champion - Khasan Khalmurzaev (RUS),
- World ranking leader - Saeid Mollaei (IRI).

Thursday 29 August: Women: -70kg Men: -90kg

Women -70kg:
- World champion - Chizuru Arai (JAP),
- Olympic champion - Haruka Tachimoto,
- World ranking leader Chizuru Arai (JAP).
Men -90kg:
- World champion - Nikoloz Sherazadishvili (SPA),
- Olympic champion - Mashu Baker (JAP),
- World ranking leader - Nikoloz Sherazadishvili (SPA).

Friday 30 August: Women: -78kg Men: -100kg

Women -78kg:
- World champion - Shori Hamada (JAP),
- Olympic champion - Kayla Harrison (USA),
- World ranking leader - Mayra Aguiar (BRA).
Men -100kg:
- World champion - Cho Gu-ham (KOR),
- Olympic champion - Lukas Krpalek (CZE),
- World ranking leader - Varlam Liparteliani (GEO)

Saturday 31 August: Women: +78kg Men: +100kg

Women +78kg:
- World champion - Sarah Asahina (JAP),
- Olympic champion - Emilie Andeol (FRA),
- World ranking leader - Idalys Ortiz (CUB).
Men +100kg:
- World champion - Guram Tushishvili (GEO),
- Olympic champion - Teddy Riner (FRA),
- World ranking leader Guram Tushishvili (GEO)

Sunday 1 September: Mixed Team event

2018 world champion - Japan.