What we learned: Judo wrap-up from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

ABE Uta Tokyo

From the Abes winning gold on the same day to the toppling of Teddy Riner, we reflect on judo's most memorable moments at Tokyo 2020, recap the medals, and look forward to Paris 2024.

The Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of judo, witnessed its fair share of drama and intrigue at Tokyo 2020.

History was made with new champions crowned, and greats dethroned, in eight days of thrilling action.

Hosts Japan dominated with nine golds out of a possible 15, one more than their previous best of eight at Athens 2004.

Kosovo and France claimed two titles apiece, and Georgia and Czech Republic one each.

Teddy Riner and Idalys Ortiz both took their individual medal tally to four, one behind the great TANI Ryoko, with Riner overcoming disappointment at not retaining his +100kg title by helping France to gold in the first Mixed Team event.

Read on for some of the most memorable moments, a recap of the medal winners, and who to look out for at Paris 2024.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: Sarah Leonie Cysique of Team France celebrates after defeating Tsukasa Yoshida of Team Japan to claim the gold medal during the Mixed Team Final on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: Sarah Leonie Cysique of Team France celebrates after defeating Tsukasa Yoshida of Team Japan to claim the gold medal during the Mixed Team Final on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

Top 5 judo moments at Tokyo 2020

Here are some of the highlights from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which took place in 2021.

1: Abe siblings make history

To have one Olympic champion in a family is some feat.

To have two Olympic champions in a family is rare.

To have two Olympic champions in a family win their gold medals on the same day is unique.

That’s what ABE Uta and brother Hifumi achieved on 25 July.

Abe Uta was first, coming through an epic women’s -52kg final with Amandine Buchard.

After four minutes of stalemate, where Abe picked up a shido penalty, it went to golden score.

There was nothing to separate the pair although the 21-year-old Japanese started to attack more in the gruelling extra period.

With just after four minutes of golden score elapsed, she made her decisive move, superbly manoeuvring her French opponent into a neck hold and scoring ippon for gold.

For Hifumi, perhaps his toughest match on the road to gold came back in December in Japan, when he came through 20 minutes of golden score to win his Olympic decider with reigning -66kg world champion MARUYAMA Joshiro.

For the record, Maruyama retained his world title in Budapest in June with Japan sending entirely different squads to the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

In the Olympic competition itself, Abe was barely challenged with a perfectly executed seoi nage shoulder throw on Brazil’s Daniel Cargnin seeing him through to the final.

One score was enough to take gold with Georgia’s Vazha Margvelashvili unable to respond to a half O-soto-gari leg sweep for waza-ari just before the midway point.

That saw the Abes become the first siblings in history to win Olympic golds in individual events on the same day.

This has turned out to be the greatest day ever. I don’t think we, as brother and sister, could shine any brighter on this stage of the Tokyo Olympics.

ABE HIFUMI

2021 Getty Images

2: Clarisse Agbegnenou finally wins gold

There was as much pressure on Clarisse Agbenenou as on any judoka in Tokyo.

Five times a world champion, the Frenchwoman was desperate to upgrade her Rio 2016 silver to gold in the home of judo.

She moved smoothly through to the final where she came up against Tina Trstenjak, the woman who denied her five years ago.

The Slovenian had endured a tougher journey to this gold medal decider, but she was the aggressor early on with Agbegnenou having to be on her guard.

The favourite was the first to be handed a shido penalty for passivity, but then Trstenjak was twice penalised for false attacks before the contest went to golden score.

Just 37 seconds into extra time came the denouement, a swift sumi-otoshi throw for waza-ari and the Olympic title for Agbegenou.

Then came a tearful embrace with her rival, and the realisation that she had finally achieved her goal.

Agbegnenou lifted Trstenjak off her feet in respect and affection as she celebrated completing her full set of honours.

She said, "Tina and I have known each other for a long time. We have very strong ties as well because she a wonderful person inside and out."

We will have a lot of time to celebrate this, to enjoy this, because things like this in life are very rare.

CLARISSE AGBEGNENOU

2021 Getty Images

3: Krpalek the new heavyweight king, as Riner bounces back from defeat

Agbegnenou and Teddy Riner were France’s biggest gold medal hopes in Tokyo, the latter bidding for a hat-trick of Olympic titles.

Riner’s run of 154 consecutive victories was ended by KAGUERA Kokora at the Paris Grand Slam weeks before the start of the pandemic, but he was still heavily fancied to retain his crown.

He made smooth enough progress to the quarter-finals where he faced ROC’s world number one Tamerlan Bashaev.

Riner had won comfortably when the two met at January’s Doha Masters, making his big height and weight advantage tell.

It went to golden score with Bashaev one shido away from disqualification but, less than 30 seconds into it, Riner got himself into a poor position and quickly found himself on his back.

A waza-ari was awarded with Riner's shock and dismay soon giving way to acceptance.

2021 Getty Images

The 32-year-old gathered himself for the repechage next day, and beat Rafael Silva of Brazil with an ippon inside a minute.

Then came his bronze medal match with old rival HARASAWA Hisayoshi in a repeat of the Rio final. It was close but Riner prevailed when Harasawa picked up his third shido penalty after a minute of golden score.

That made it four medals for the Frenchman at consecutive Games with the prospect of more to come in the first Olympic Mixed Team event the following day.

Meanwhile, Bashaev lost his semi-final with Georgia’s Guram Tushishvili courtesy of a throw similar to the one he had defeated Riner with. Victory over Ukraine’s Yakiv Khammo saw Bashaev take bronze.

Tushishvili met Rio -100kg Olympic champion Lukas Krpalek for gold. The Czech needed four minutes of golden score to get past Harasawa in the semi-finals, and was soon up against it with two shido penalties coming his way.

But with 30 seconds left, he countered with a fine Hikikomi-gaeshi sacrifice throw for waza-ari and then followed up with a Yoko-shiho-gatame hold for 10 seconds to complete victory.

Krpalek was on his knees as he shouted to the heavens before collapsing in tears. A second gold in a second weight class was his.

2021 Getty Images

Japan and France were strongly fancied in the Mixed Team event and it was no great surprise to see them meet in the final.

Agbegnenou faced Japan’s -70kg gold medallist ARAI Chizuru and, despite her weight disadvantage, won courtesy of two waza-aris with 30 seconds left.

France went 2-0 up when Axel Clerget defeated -90kg rival MUKAI Shoichiro in golden score, but SONE Akira backed up her individual gold at +78kg with victory by ippon over bronze medallist Romane Dicko.

Next it was the turn of Riner up against -100kg gold medallist Aaron Wolf. The Japanese fought bravely despite a huge height and weight disadvantage, but Riner finally made his bulk tell as he countered an attempted leg sweep with a hook of his own to move France to the brink.

And gold was secure when women’s -57kg silver medallist Sarah-Leonie Cysique got the better of bronze medallist YOSHIDA Tsukasa.

Riner may have missed out on the two golds he craved, the double only achieved by Agbegnenou in Tokyo, but he showed his champion credentials by putting disappointment behind him to help his team to a historic triumph.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: Teddy Riner of Team France celebrates victory over Team Japan during the Mixed Team Final to claim the gold medal on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: Teddy Riner of Team France celebrates victory over Team Japan during the Mixed Team Final to claim the gold medal on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

4: Double joy for Kosovo

Kosovo celebrated wildly five years ago when Majlinda Kelmendi took the women’s -52kg title in Rio for the nation’s first medal on its Olympic Games debut.

While Kelmendi was unable to make the podium this time round, two more women showed that Kosovo is a serious force in judo.

In the women’s -48kg class, Distria Krasniqi was among the favourites having won the world title in June. Two-time world champion Daria Bilodid missed that event, but was sure to be in the shake-up as was Argentina’s reigning Olympic champion Paulo Pareto.

But it was a home challenger who would take out two of the big names with 2017 world champion TONAKI Funa defeating Pareto in the quarter-finals before stunning the Ukrainian star after three minutes of golden score.

Bilodid eventually took bronze as Krasniqi made smooth progress to the gold medal match.

The Kosovan judoka was somewhat subdued for much of the final, but exploded into life with an uchi-mata throw for waza-ari 20 seconds from time.

That proved to be enough as Krasniqi followed the path of her training partner Kelmendi to the top of the Olympic podium.

2021 Getty Images

The women’s -57kg looked an open affair with Canada’s reigning world champion Jessica Klimkait and 2017 champ Yoshida Tsukasa boasting the best form in global competition.

Neither would reach the final as Nora Gjakova beat Tsukasa in the semi-finals, with Sarah-Leonie Cysique getting the better of Klimkait.

There was a controversial end to the final as Cysique was adjudged to have dived head first at the mat in trying to make a throw.

Due to it being a dangerous move, and one which left the Frenchwoman rubbing her neck afterwards, she was disqualified with the gold going to Gjakova.

It was a poignant success with the small nation in mourning after a road accident the previous day left 10 dead, prompting President Vjosa Osmani to cut short her Tokyo stay and return home.

Kosovo’s medal tally now stands at three, all of them gold, all of them in women’s judo.

I want to thank Majlinda. She started the path and supported all of us. Without her, Distria's gold and my gold would have never happened.

NORA GJAKOVA

2021 Getty Images

5: Ono dominates once more

Leading the way for Japan was ONO Shohei who cemented his reputation as an all-time great by retaining his -73kg title.

With Ono picking and choosing his tournaments during the year, he was unseeded in Tokyo in the most competitive weight class of all. Before the Games, he even called it “unfair” that there were so many athletes in his division.

It mattered not as the 29-year-old swept through the draw with his typical aggression resulting in trademark ippons including one to defeat top seed Rustam Orujov in the quarter-finals.

Things got tougher in the semis as Mongolia’s TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar defended superbly until 40 seconds into golden score when Ono hooked the leg and threw him for kosoto-gake and victory by waza-ari.

The final was harder still against London 2012 gold medallist and Rio 2016 bronze medallist Lasha Shavdatuashvili.

Despite picking up two shidos in golden score against the Georgian’s one, Ono remained calmness personified. Nearly five and a half minutes into extra time, with both men clearly fatigued, the home favourite finally prevailed with twisting foot-sweep throw for waza-ari.

There were none of the histrionics or tears of other gold medallists, merely a contented smile at completing his mission. As judo great and Sydney 2000 gold medallist INOUE Kosei put it, “He is the perfect combination of power, precision and technique.”

2021 Getty Images

One last look

Rio 2016 gold medallist Paula Pareto has retired from judo and already returned to the hospital where she works as a doctor.

The Argentinian star was injured in her quarter-final defeat to Tonaki Funa and clearly hampered in her repechage loss to Portugal's Catarina Costa.

The 35-year-old remains her nation's only individual female Olympic gold medallist, and was given a rapturous reception upon returning to the Athletes' Village for the last time.

Teddy Riner has spoken of his ambition to compete at his home Games, while Cuba’s four-time medallist Idalys Ortiz is weighing up bidding for a fifth medal.

Having defied critics who said she was too old, Tina Trstenjak has not committed to trying to regain her Olympic title from old rival Clarisse Agbegnenou.

Already Slovenia’s most successful female Summer Olympian, Trstenjak will be almost 34 when Paris rolls around.

HAMADA Shori defeated Madeleine Malonga to take -78kg gold., avenging her defeat in the 2019 World Championship final in Tokyo.

Hamada, 30, put the Frenchwoman into a hold inside the first minute and maintained it for 20 seconds to win by ippon.

Having become Olympic champion, and given the competition for places in the Japanese ranks, Paris might not be her objective.

Ono Shohei was Japan’s senior male judo gold medallist at 29, and the chance to match NOMURA Taduhiro’s three consecutive Olympic titles will surely spur him on to Paris.

Former world champion Saeid Mollaei, now representing Mongolia after defecting from Iran, won silver at -81kg after a final defeat in golden score to NAGASE Takanori.

Mollaei was ordered to lose his semi-final at the 2019 World Championships so he would not face Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.

The pair have become close friends with Muki, who made an early exit from the individual competition, saying, “I’m so happy that he succeeded in achieving his dream. He deserves it; his journey is incredibly inspiring.”

At 29, Mollaei may struggle to make the next Games, but 25-year-old Muki should be there having helped Israel to bronze in the Mixed Team event.

Hello Paris 2024

France’s women will be a force to be reckoned with on home soil at Paris 2024.

In Tokyo, they won one gold, three silver and two bronze medals with the other medals Teddy Riner’s bronze and Mixed Team gold.

At 28, Clarisse Agbegnenou should have another Games in her with Amandine Buchard, Sarah-Leonie Cysique, Madeleine Malonga and Romane Dicko all younger.

That said, most of the Japanese stars should turn up too with only Hamada Shori the wrong side of 30.

The Abe siblings – 21-year-old Uta and 24-year-old Hifumi – should be there although nothing is certain given the intense competition for Olympic spots in Japan.

When and where to watch judo replays on Olympics.com

The answer is: olympics.com/tokyo2020-replays

When do the top judokas compete next?

Some of the world’s best judokas will be back in action at the Zagreb Grand Prix from 24-26 September.

The Paris Grand Slam takes place on 16-17 October, with the Baku Grand Slam the 2021 finale from 5-7 November.

Full medals list in judo at Tokyo 2020

Women -48kg

Gold – Distria Krasniqi (KOS)

Silver – TONAKI Funa (JPN)

Bronze – Daria Bilodid (UKR), MUNKHBAT Urantsetseg (MGL)

Women -52kg

Gold – ABE Ute (JPN)

Silver – Amandine Buchard (FRA)

Bronze – Odette Giuffrida (ITA), Chelsie Giles (GBR)

Women -57kg

Gold – Nora Gjakova (KOS)

Silver – Sarah Leonie Cysique (FRA)

Bronze – YOSHIDA Tsukasa (JPN), Jessica Klimkait (CAN))

Women -63kg

Gold – Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA)

Silver – Tina Trstenjak (SLO)

Bronze – Maria Centracchio (ITA), Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (CAN)

Women -70kg

Gold – ARAI Chizuru (JPN)

Silver – Michaela Polleres (AUT)

Bronze – Madina Taimazova (ROC), Sanne van Dijke (NED)

Women -78kg

Gold – HAMADA Shori (JPN)

Silver – Madeleine Malonga (FRA)

Bronze – Anna-Maria Wagner (GER), Mayra Aguiar (BRA)

Women +78kg

Gold – SONE Akira (JPN)

Silver – Idalys Ortiz (CUB)

Bronze – Iryna Kindzerska (AZE), Romane Dicko (FRA)

2021 Getty Images

Men -60kg

Gold – TAKATO Naohisa (JPN)

Silver - YANG Yung Wei (TPE)

Bronze - Yeldos Smetov (KAZ), Luka Mkheidze (FRA)

Men -66kg

Gold – ABE Hifumi (JPN)

Silver – Vazhe Margvelashvili (GEO)

Bronze – AN Baul (KOR), Daniel Cargnin (BRA)

Men -73kg

Gold – ONO Shohei (JPN)

Silver – Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO)

Bronze – AN Changrim (KOR), TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL)

Men -81kg

Gold – NAGASE Takanori (JPN)

Silver – Saeid Mollaei (MGL)

Bronze – Shamil Borchashvili (AUT), Matthias Casse (BEL)

Men -90kg

Gold - Lasha Bekauri (GEO)

Silver – Eduard Trippel (GER)

Bronze – Davlat Bobonov (UZB), Krisztian Toth (HUN)

Men -100kg

Gold – Aaron Wolf (JPN)

Silver – CHO Guham (KOR)

Bronze - Jorge Fonseca (POR, Niiaz Iliasov (ROC)

Men +100kg

Gold – Lukas Krpalek (CZE)

Silver – Guram Tushishvili (GEO)

Bronze – Teddy Riner (FRA), Tamerlan Bashaev (ROC)

2021 Getty Images

Mixed Team

Gold - France

Silver - Japan

Bronze - Germany, Israel