The universality of judo was very much a reality in Buenos Aires, with podium finishes for numerous nations, for men and women alike. The competitions ended with an innovative international mixed team event, which was marked by the Olympic spirit of friendship, excellence and respect.
The first women’s gold medal in judo was decided on the day after the Opening Ceremony, and went to Venezuela’s Maria Gimenez in the -44kg category. A noteworthy achievement: her country had never previously won a Youth Olympic Games (YOG) gold medal, and had never won an Olympic medal in judo. In the final, Gimenez beat her Indian rival, Tababi Devi Thangjam, with an ippon. “I had never imagined achieving anything this big. I have been training since I was very young, and his is a dream come true,” she said.
The other women’s titles went to Russia’s Irena Khabulova in the -52kg, Hungary’s Szofi Ozbas in the -63kg and, on the last day, Germany’s Rafaella Igls in the -78 kg category, who won all her bouts with an ippon on the Asia Pavilion tatami.
Overall, the quota system used for these YOG to ensure two athletes per nation (one male, one female), allowed 16 judokas from 16 national teams a podium place. These included Mariem Khlifi, who was beaten by Ozbas in the final of the -63 kg, who won Tunisia’s first Olympic medal in judo.
Among the men, the judokas from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Mongolia took the lion’s share. In the final of the -55kg, Artsiom Kolasau from Belarus beat Mongolia’s Temuujin Ganburged. In the -66kg, Azerbaijan’s Vugar Talibov beat his Russian opponent, Abrek Naguchev, after just one minute: with an ippon. Romania’s Adrian Sulca did the same in the final of the -81kg against his Czech opponent, Martin Bezdek, but needed two minutes to do so.
Lastly, the heavyweight (-100kg) title went to Kazakhstan’s Bekarys Saduakas in the longest bout of the Buenos Aires YOG: more than six minutes. Saduakas finally achieved a golden score win over Georgia’s Ilia Sulamanidze. Among the 16 judoka medallists, Dominica’s Antonio Tornal won bronze in the -66kg category, to give his country its first ever Olympic judo medal.
In the eight individual events, Kazakhstan and Russia each won one gold and one silver medal, making them the best judo nations at the 2018 YOG, ahead of Hungary (one gold and one bronze).
A superb experience
The judo competitions ended on 10 October with the innovative international mixed team competition. The 13 teams taking part were given the names of Olympic host cities, and it was the Beijing team who won, even though this was more of an event where friendship, excellence and respect mattered more than the colour of the medals.
As they climbed onto the top step of the podium, Artsiom Kolasau (Belarus), Li Ling Liu (Chinese Taipei), Jaykhunbek Nazarov (Uzbekistan), Carlos Paez (Venezuela), Itzel Pecha (Mexico), Ana Viktorija Puljiz (Croatia) and Veronica Toniolo (Italy) hugged each other warmly. There were no national flags in the Asia Pavilion in the Youth Olympic Park, where the atmosphere was one of solidarity between judokas sharing the aim of getting to know one another, enjoying a fantastic experience and doing their best to help one another.
“I became friends with all my team mates,” Verocina Toniolo explained after her victory. “And we’ll stay friends. Even if we compete against each other in the future. This was my first mixed competition and it was a fantastic experience, as there were no differences between us here.”