Russian judokas took part in the last Grand Slam tournament of this year, which was held in Japan. 28 domestic athletes went to Tokyo. The national team managed to win two gold and four bronze medals, losing only to the hosts of the competition, who left seven medals of the highest value in their homeland.
Tamerlan Bashaev finally climbed to the top step of the podium in the weight category over 100 kg. At the last two starts of the series, the bronze medalist of the 2020 Olympics could not reach the grand final, limiting himself only to third place. And that upset him greatly.
"Such a result may be an achievement for someone, but for me it is already the minimum that I should achieve in the international arena. And the minimum does not make me very happy," Bashaev admitted.
In Tokyo, the athlete managed to get what he wanted, getting to the main bout of the tournament. Moreover, on the way to it, Tamerlan coped with serious opponents: in particular, with two-time Olympic champion Lukas Krpalek and multiple world tour medalist Levan Matiashvili.
In the final, he had to face the two-time medalist of the World Championships, Korean Kim Min Jong, who had previously defeated the Russian Inal Tasoev. Although both judokas had a similar technical arsenal, Bashaev still dominated the fight. His attacks were more frequent and threatening, and a minute before the end of the fight, the Russian made one of the best throws of the tournament - a master technique of uchi-mata-sukashi - and earned an ippon.
"It was the first time I met a Korean, but I kept an eye on him as he is known for his stamina and explosive power. Tasoev helped me prepare for the fight. He told what the opponent's tactics are: Kim constantly imposes his own, does not allow him to fight. So, you need to work as number one. I started as planned, but then there was a surprise – the opponent decided to take a risk, climbed into the throw, and I was able to counterattack him with my signature technique. I think the final was quite successful. It has already become a joke for Inal and me: wherever we go, the heavyweights always take the gold. We didn't plan to break the traditions here either, but we wanted to meet in the final even more," Bashaev said.
Tasoev, on the other hand, had to fight for third place with Matiashvili. The fight turned out to be very difficult for both athletes. It was not possible to identify the strongest in the main time. Therefore, the winner of the bronze medal was determined in the golden score, where Inal was a little more active. As a result, the judges showed the Georgian the third shido and awarded the victory to the Russian.
Another gold medal for the Russian national team was brought by Matvey Kanikovsky in the category up to 100kg. The judoka shows himself very brightly in the international arena, despite his age: he is only 22 years old. In Tokyo, he coped with the world champion Nikoloz Sherazadishvili, who previously competed in the weight category up to 90 kg, the Japanese Kotaro Ueoka, and also took revenge on the Azerbaijani Zelim Kotsoev for the defeat at the European Championships in Montpellier, where the domestic athlete limited himself to bronze.
In the final, Kanikovsky faced the winner of the World Junior Championship, 18-year-old Japanese Dota Arai, who also shows excellent results despite his age. But he could not surprise the Russian. It took Matvey only half a minute for ippon to work, sending his opponent to the shoulder blades with a throw with a fall on his back. Thus, the Russian won his fifth Grand Slam medal.
"I wasn't really nervous before the final, but I was preparing. After a series of defeats, I managed to rehabilitate myself, so everything is fine. Arai will show 100% high results in the future: the guy is only 18 years old, and he is already in the final of the Tokyo tournament. The hardest and most interesting for me today was the fight with Kotsoev, the leader of this weight category. Now the score of our meetings is 2:1 in my favor," Kanikovsky said.
Two-time European champion Mikhail Igolnikov, who competes in the weight category up to 90 kg, also went to the competition in order to win gold. According to the athlete, he had an inner feeling that he was capable of doing it.
"But the victory, like soap from your hands, slipped away," the judoka joked.
Failure occurred in the quarterfinals in a fight with the host of the tournament, Sanshiro Murao, seeded second in the competition, who eventually won the tournament. The Japanese managed to put his opponent on his shoulders in the second minute of the fight.
"I slept through the fight, or rather, I went out to fight in a drowsy state. That's when I flopped down, that's when I cheered up. Murao and I fought before and so far I'm losing to him. This time I was determined to win, but the early rise made itself felt - at 05:30 we woke up so as not to be late. We acclimatized well, but there is still fog in the head," Igolnikov said.
Mikhail had already recovered by the bronze medal match and easily coped with Kwak Dong-han from South Korea. The bronze medalist of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has been performing unsuccessfully for the last three years, not reaching the finals of the competition, so the tournament in Tokyo can be counted as an asset in any case. But he could not defeat the Russian. The two-time European champion needed just 27 seconds to make a mock mat.
"There is already a feeling that the Olympics are coming soon. I am sure that everything is in my hands and in the hands of our coaching staff. I still have enough rating points, and next year there will be several tournaments that can add points to us," the domestic judoka said.
Again, Ayub Bliev could not reach the grand final in the weight category up to 60 kg. This time, at the preliminary stage, he failed to cope with the two-time medalist of the World Championships, Japanese Ryuju Nagayama.
However, the fight for bronze turned out to be difficult for the Russian. For the first five minutes, Bliev maintained a high tempo, which exhausted theAzerbaijani Balabai Aghayev: he earned two shidos. In the golden score, the opponent was already close to victory, but Ayub repelled his opponent's tired attempt to make a throw and earned the decisive waza-ari.
Another bronze medalist was won by David Karapetyan in the category up to 81 kg. The silver medalist of the Junior World Championships was quite confident in the grid of the competition, but in the quarterfinals he lost to Somon Mahmadbekov from Tajikistan.
"We know each other well. It turned out to be a close fight - waza-ari on waza-ari, now we will work, and we will come up with something so that this does not happen again. The competition at 81 kg is the strongest, and not because I fight in it - it's the average weight of a person, and the strongest get to the Grand Slam, so the fight goes bone to bone, and in some moments you just have to endure and show what you can," Karpetyan admitted.
In the fight for the Grand Slam bronze, the Russian got a multiple medalist of the series, Canadian Francois Gauthier-Drapeau. However, this did not embarrass the Russian judoka at all. Already at the beginning of the fight, he earned the first waza-ari, and literally a minute later with a kneeling hook - the second.
"We haven't met a Canadian before, because we don't play on the international stage that often. But I watched the competition and I knew how he wrestled. With the coach, we dismantled it before the fight, so Gauthier-Drapeau was not a surprise for me," said David.
Also, according to the athlete, this medal, even if it is bronze, will add to his self-confidence, and the tournament itself gave him the necessary experience.
"I work, I train, and when I get on the mat, I tell myself that I have to fight to the end to make it pay off. Yes, there are Olympic champions, world champions, but they are the same people – two arms, two legs, and they work the same way. I think it's a question of human psychology, and if you want to, you can achieve great heights. I need points to qualify for the Olympics and I'm getting closer to my goal," Karapetyan added.
Also, Madina Taimazova in the category up to 70 kg and the champion of Russia Alis Startseva (over 78 kg) made it to the small finals of the competition in Tokyo, but this time the girls failed to win medals. The bronze medalist of the Olympics allowed Romanian Serafima Moskal to perform a choke, and her compatriot lost in shido.