Near-perfect World Championships delighted organisers, athletes and fans – and, with Japan topping the medal table, cranked up the excitement ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.
In the world of martial arts, the Nippon Budokan is considered a holy place. Constructed for the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964 and used ever since for judo, karate, aikido and wrestling (as well as gigs by musicians ranging from The Beatles to Janet Jackson), it is to fighting sports what the Maracana or Wembley are to football.
It’s little surprise then that this temple of combat (which translates as “Japan Martial Arts Hall”) has been chosen as the venue for karate and judo at Tokyo 2020 – or that the first test event at the venue, the World Judo Championships Tokyo 2019, held there from 25 August to 1 September, were a roaring success.
The 11,000-seat Budokan was alive with noise during the tournament – partly thanks to the home team topping the medal table at a sport they excel in, and they will be a strong medal favourite next summer. Japan finished with five gold, six silver and five bronze medals, well ahead of France in second place (three gold, one silver, two bronze).
For the home fans perhaps the most amazing contest of the week was the emergence of Japanese teenager Akira Sone in the women’s +78kg. She defeated Cuba’s two-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Idalys Ortiz in the final.
“Fighting in Japan, I had a really supportive crowd; they gave me the energy to push really hard,” she said of the Budokan’s remarkable atmosphere. “To win gold here is very special. I’m going to take it step by step, but my final goal is gold in Tokyo in one year’s time.”
Another local hero, Uta Abe, won her second successive world championship title in the women’s -52kg, beating Natalia Kuziutina of Russia. Abe also credited the crowd for her performance.
“I am so pleased to win this competition in Tokyo, and to be double champion,” she said. “I would be lying if I said there was no pressure, I felt a tremendous amount. The home crowd gave me strength to beat the opponents. I thank them for enabling this result.”
Visiting athletes were also enthusiastic about the event. France’s Marie-Ève Gahié, who took gold in the -70kg women’s final, said: “I just want to say thank you, I am so happy, this is very beautiful. It’s an honour for me. Japan is the country of judo.”
The Organising Committee was happy with the smooth running of proceedings. “We are delighted with the outcome of the IJF World Judo Championships Tokyo 2019,” said Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya. “Athletes were able to give their best performances in front of thousands of fans in the Nippon Budokan, Japan’s heart of martial arts.
“The Championships also served as a Tokyo 2020 test event, and our teams on site were able to learn a lot, which further guarantees the successful delivery of the Games next year. This is all very satisfying and exciting, and we are looking forward to the return of judo to its Olympic birthplace at the Tokyo 2020 Games.”