The pride of Kosovo, Majlinda Kelmendi turned up on day two of the Judo World Championships in confident mood, hoping to become World champion for the third time.
Not having tasted defeat since 2015, everybody expected her relentless march to continue in the under 52 kilogram category.
But nobody had reckoned on Ai Shishime, the world number 5 from Japan. She met Kelmendi in the semifinals and Shishime pounced on a rare mistake by the World Champion in the sixth minute of golden score, winning by waza-ari from a uchi-mata-sukashi.
Shishime faced off against her compatriot Natsumi Tsunoda in the final, scoring ippon with uchi-mata to seal victory and take the under 52 kilogram category.
Ai Shishime said:
“With regards to the reigning champion Kelmendi, no Japanese judoka has been able to stop her. So to be able to win that match and reach the final made the final even more special than it was.”
Kelmendi’s defeat ended a 28-match unbeaten run for the Brazilian, proving the strength of the Japanese team.
But as one star wanes, another rises to shine bright. Next up to represent Japan was Hifumi Abe in the under 66 kilogram category. The world number four and already a junior world silver medallist at the tender age of just 20, Abe more than lived up to his potential on Tuesday, winning his bouts with apparent ease.
He came up against the world number 11, Georgia’s Vazha Margvelashvili in the semi-final and scored waza-ari after executing a quick and skilful change of direction.
In the final the Japanese judoka fought against former vice-world champion Mikhail Puliaev of Russia.
The winner of Baku’s Grand Slam 2016, the Russian is renowned for his speed but Abe relied on the move that has served him well throughout the tournament and threw him for ippon.
Hifumi Abe said:
“There are two parts of me, there’s the relieved part and also the part where I’m happy, but the part of me that’s bigger now is the happy part.”
That brings Japan’s medal total to four golds out of four, two silvers and one bronze after just two days of competition.
On day 3, Soichi Hashimoto, the world number one in the under 73 kilogram category will be in action.
Can anyone stop Japan, the home of – and the juggernaut – of judo?
Today’s VIP guest was Neil Eckersley, a two-time Olympian and bronze medallist from Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul 1988 and a 7th dan.
“What has inspired me the most and impressed me the most is the professionalism, the team sportsmanship, but also the respect shown by every player that performed today”.
Our moment of the day comes not from the final or the semis or even the quarters, but the third round.
Italian and Rio Olympic champion Fabio Basile faced South Korean and reigning World Champion Baul An. A thrilling bout from end to end, they both scored and left the mat visibly exhausted.
An qualified for the next round in the end, but they both exemplified judo at its best.