Ten things we learned from the 2019 judo world championships

From Daria Bilodid's continuous rise to Clarisse Agbegnenou's epic final to Shohei Ono's dominance: Ten things to remember from the Tokyo 2020 test event.

By Alessandro Poggi and Shintaro Kano

Epic matches, historic titles, big upsets: the 2019 judo world championships had it all.

The rise of teen prodigies Daria Bilodid and Uta Abe, the dominant performance from pound-for-pound king Shohei Ono and the tenacity of four-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou highlighted the event at the Nippon Budokan, where the Olympic judo competition will take place in a year's time.

Here are 10 things we learned from the IJF competition in Japan, which also doubled as a Tokyo 2020 test event.

1) There's something about Daria

Daria Bilodid is not even 19 and in Tokyo became the youngest judoka to have won two individual world titles.

Ukraine's -48kg champion was one of the most popular athletes in Japan with fans queuing in the corridors of the Budokan to take a picture with her.

The young judo star was also very much in demand with the press, and once she returned home, she was warmly greeted by her National Olympic committee president, former Olympic champion pole vaulter Sergey Bubka.

Bilodid's aggressive style and the way she locks rivals up using her long legs earned her the nickname Anaconda.

"It's because I’m big, twist my body a lot, and use leg work," she said with a smile.

"But I just want to be angry and aggressive and I don't want to fight like any animal, only like Daria Bilodid!"

The aspiring sport journalist is on course to equal or even surpass the record of seven world titles won by Japan's Ryoko Tani (nee Tamura).

She has said in the past she plans to retire at 25. Will she make it?

2) Japan's rising stars

19-year-old Uta Abe had a lot of pressure on her shoulders, but she didn't disappoint.

The Tokyo 2020 poster girl convincingly defeated Olympic champion Majlinda Kelmendi in their first long-awaited match-up as they faced off in the -52kg semi-final.

Abe followed it up with a win in the final after just 29 seconds to clinch back-to-back titles.

Another strong Japanese teenager is coming through the ranks: Akira Sone.

At 19, the former cadet and junior world champion won her first senior title after beating a legend: Cuba's Idalys Ortiz.

Japan's future looks to be in good hands!

3) Shohei Ono: the pound-for-pound king

Shohei Ono is a far more established Japanese judoka, and was probably the most dominant athlete during the whole competition.

The 28-year-old cruised to his third title by showing an extraordinary mix of technical skills, tactical awareness and nerves of steel.

"He virtually has no weaknesses," Japan's men's coach Kosei Inoue said.

"This season, he did all his homework from the previous year and I would say he’s even stronger than he was in Rio now."

4) Clarisse Agbegnenou is tough to crack

Clarisse Agbegnenou featured in arguably the most gruelling and nailbiting contest of the tournament.

The 26-year-old was pushed to the limit by home favourite and world number three Miku Tashiro.

Agbegnenou's mental strength helped her win an epic women's -63kg final that ended after seven minutes of sudden death.

"The final was the hardest in a really, really long time," she admitted.

"Now I can say that I went with my mind, my head because my body didn’t want to go!"

5) Olympic champions don't give up

Majlinda Kelmendi, Rafaela Silva, and Idalys Ortiz may not have won a title, but once again they all showed heart and spirit.

Kosovo's first-ever Olympic champion Kelmendi had to settle for bronze after losing to Uta Abe in the semis, but she's ready to fight back next year:

"To become a legend, you need to beat a legend," she said about her rival.

Game on!

Silva lost to defending -57kg champion Tsukasa Yoshida in the semis but she hung on in the small final to clinch a bronze:

"I really wanted to win this title, but I'm happy with my performance," the Brazilian said in tears.

"To be among the best in my weight class, which is very competitive, motivates me ahead of next year's Olympics."

Ortiz was happy with her eighth medal in a world championship.

"It’s hard to achieve the gold. I don’t know how long I can maintain to keep performing on this level, but I continue to work hard", the Cuban legend said after claiming silver for the second consecutive year.

5) Historic titles

Christa Deguchi's gold in the -57kg was special for many reasons.

It was Canada's first world title and she won it in the country where she was born, before switching allegiance in 2017.

What Jorge Fonseca achieved was perhaps even more remarkable.

The native of the Sao Tome and Principe stunned everybody in the men's -100kg division to clinch his first title on the IJF World Tour and Portugal's first-ever medal at the world championships.

His celebration dance was also a big talking point:

"It's not Brazilian, it's African, where my origins are from", the 26-year-old said. "I dance since I was a kid and sometimes I still do it on the dance floor!".

7) Teddy Riner has a new challenger

Lukas Krpalek was crowned world champion for the second time in his career, adding a super-heavyweight gold to his half-heavyweight title from 2014 in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

In the final, the -100kg Rio 2016 gold medallist looked fitter and sharper than Olympic silver medallist Hisayoshi Harasawa, who in his semi-final defeated the then defending champ, Guram Tushishvili.

The 28-year-old Czech now plans to challenge Teddy Riner: "Winning a competition without him it's not the same. I hope to face him at the Euro Championships in Prague. I want to be the man who's going to beat him."

France's double Olympic champion opted to skip the competition for the second consecutive year and told the Olympic Channel about his strategy ahead of Tokyo 2020.

8) A strong message from the Refugee Team

For the first time a newborn team composed by refugees competed at the judo world championships.

The eight athletes who fought in Tokyo are originally from Syria, DR Congo (Popole Misenga who was part of the Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016), and Iran.

None won a medal, but all overcame the odds to even be in Japan, and their message was far more important than their performance on the tatami.

Olympic Channel met three of them as they were training at the famous Kodokan Institute in Tokyo.

9) Japan clear favourite for team event after 3-peat

France had Japan sweating in the final of the mixed team event that will debut at Tokyo 2020.

But in the end, the hosts had the luxury of turning to their big guns like men's -73kg champion Shohei Ono and women's -78kg silver medallist Shori Hamada as Japan captured their third successive team championship.

How serious are Japan about winning judo's inaugural team event at the Olympic Games? Japanese judo's authority explains.

"The team event will debut at the Olympics on the final day of the judo competition", said Yasuhiro Yamashita, President of the All Japan Judo Federation and Japanese Olympic Committee who is enshrined in the IJF Hall of Fame.

"And this is one we want to win - no matter what".

10) There's life after judo

Judo is a sport that puts a lot of strain on athlete's bodies and minds.

Some judoka, like Sarah Asahina, decide to retire early to focus on other challenges, in her case to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

Others, like 2012 Olympic champion Kaori Matsumoto, find a new purpose in something else, like selling ice creams!


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