Teddy Riner hasn't competed for a whole year already (his last competition was the 2017 World Open Championships in Morocco last November).
He didn't even bother to defend his world title in the 2018 Baku World Championships. Perhaps he already has too many world titles to count so he wasn't bothered with yet another world gold (been there, done that).
Still, you would have thought that after so many months away from competition, he would have wanted to get his feet wet again. No doubt he's been attending international training camps but competition is quite different from randori. Even great champions can get rusty if they don't compete every now and then.
There were expectations of him returning to the mat at the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Slam but he was a no-show there too. Some people got excited thinking he might actually compete at the upcoming Osaka Grand Slam but the official list has come out and he's not in there. Apparently, he's not even going to compete in the 2019 Paris Grand Slam or (believe it or not), the 2019 Tokyo World Championships!
One can't help but wonder will he have enough time to get the necessary points to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
In Baku, I asked the French team director Stephane Traineau this question and his reply was: "When Teddy Riner wants to qualify, he'll qualify just like that."
He's probably right. Riner is currently No. 30 in the IJF rankings with 1350 points. To qualify for the Olympics, he will need to get within the top 18. The 18th position is currently held by Japan's Takeshi Ojitani with 1862 points. Riner has to win just one Grand Prix (worth 700 points) and he will be in the top 18.
Of course if Riner continues to not compete throughout much of 2019 while his peers continue to compete in various Grand Prix and Grand Slams, as well as the World Masters and the World Championships, their points will shoot up while his remain stagnant.
Still, Riner could catch up quite easily. Even if he were to trail the No 18th guy by a few thousand points, all he has to do is go on a few Grand Prix (700 points for gold) and Grand Slams (1000 points for gold) in succession and he'll get the necessary points to qualify.
So, yes, Riner can qualify once he feels like doing so. That is not the problem. But being away from competition for so long -- nearly two years if indeed he does not compete at all until after the 2019 Tokyo World Championships -- cannot be good for any athlete, even one as mighty as Riner.
No doubt, even if he were to completely rest for two years (no training, no competition), he could probably still blow most of the top 18 out of the water just like that. But there are at last five players who could give him a hard time. (Who these five are is the topic for my next blog posting).
One thing you can be sure of is that these five will be competing a lot throughout 2019, and not only earning qualification points but gaining confidence with each competition. All five have fought Riner before and will not be as scared of him as they were the first time they encountered him. That is actually quite important because Riner psychologically defeats most of his opponents even before they step on the mat.
There's no question Riner will eventually qualify for Tokyo 2020. The real question is whether he will be as sharp or as dominant as he needs to be to fulfill his dream of matching Tadahiro Nomura's Olympic record of three gold medals.
Lutfillaev (UZB) is a short-statured player but he has the ability to lift his opponents very high up with uchimata. In this case though, his opponent tries to evade the uchimata with by dropping down low towards the mat. Doesn't matter. Lutfillaev rotates him over anyway with this incredibly low uchimata.
Pool A: Japan In Pool A, Japan was drawn against Mongolia, which it beat. After that, Japan defeated the home team Azerbaijan to top the pool.
Pool B: Korea Korea’s unified team defeated Romania and then the Netherlands to top the pool.
Pool C: France Pool C had several strong countries, namely Brazil, Cuba, France and Hungary. Brazil beat Cuba to top the upper bracket while France overcame Hungry to top the lower bracket. In the quarterfinal, France beat Brazil to top the pool.
Pool D: Russia Russia defeated Kazakhstan and Great Britain to meet Germany which it beat as well to top this pool.
Semi-Finals In the first semi-final Japan defeated thee unified Korean team 4-0 while in the second semi-final France defeated Russia 4-1.
In the first bronze medal contest Russia defeated home team Azerbaijan 4-1.
In the second one, the unified Korean team routed Germany 4-0.
Perhaps it was only fitting that Japan and France, traditional two of the strongest judo countries, would meet in the final. As it turned out it was not a close fight with Japan achieving a 4-1 victory over France.
+90kg: Hisayoshi Harasawa (JPN) threw Cyrille Maret (FRA) with uchimata in Golden Score to give Japan a 1-0 lead.
-57kg: Tsukasa Yoshida (JPN) then defeated Priscilla Gneto (FRA) by throwing her with harai-makikimi for waza-ari and the pinning her with ushiro-kesa-gatame for waza-ari-awasatte-ippon. Japan was ahead 2-0
-73kg: Arata Tatsukawa (JPN) made it 3-0 when he defeated Guillaume Chaine (FRA) in Golden Score by hansoku-make after the Frenchman got his third shido.
-70kg: Marie Eve Gahie (FRA) kept France hope alive by smashing Japan’s Yoko Ono flat on her back for ippon. It was now Japan 3-1 France.
-90kg: Shoichiro Mukai (JPN) dashed French hopes for the contest to go on when he flattened Axel Clerget (FRA) with kosoto-gake for ippon. And with that, Japan is World Mixed Team champion.
The current IJF rules allow tori to throw uke when uke has both knees on the ground provided it is a continuous action.
For example, if uke had tried a drop seoi-nage and is now with both knees on the ground. Previously, tori had only two options: a) let go and move away resulting in the referee calling matte b) engage in groundwork
Now, there is a third option. Tori can opt to try to throw uke. Most of the time -- in this World Championships anyway -- it has manifested itself in the form of sumi-gaeshi but it could be other throws (uchimata, osoto).
It should be said that many of the players who are doing this are top players or those who come from strong judo countries which indicate they have been training this, to make the most of the new rules.
Judo players are used to the idea of staying on the ground once an attack fails. Usually they would just wait for a matte to be called. But with this new rule, you are not safe from throws merely by having both knees on the ground. If tori doesn't let go, and matte has not been called, the game is still in play and tori can throw you even if both of your knees are on the ground.
Traditionalists don't like it. They consider uke to be in newaza if both his knees are on the ground. But that isn't the case under today's rules. If uke is on the ground and tori remains standing, it's a tachi-waza situation. For example if uke grabs tori's legs in such a situation it's a shido because it is not considered a newaza situation (where grabbing the legs is allowed).
As long as tori is still standing and holding onto uke, it is a tachi-waza situation. Of course if tori hovers over uke without doing anything, the referee will call matte. But tori does have the option to try to throw which is more than what used to be the case.
We think this, just liked the delayed roll score is a good thing for judo and for the very same reason: it keeps the action going which will promote a more flowing style of judo.
Previously judo players could just stay on their knees and expect a matte to be called. Or they could turtle-up and defend until a matte is called. Most of the time, tori would just walk away from the situation, which means a matte situation. No more.
Now, tori can continue with a throw (and some of the top players have started doing that). As mentioned earlier, most of the time such attacks have been with sumi-gaeshi but probably over time different types of attacks can be developed for use in such situations. This all good for promoting a more dynamic form of judo, one that is less punctuated with "matte" breaks.
Gibran (right) in discussion with Fighting Films production manager Jack Willingham.
Gibran Khan is the IJF media rights and broadcasting manager. What do you do exactly? Mainly I handle the media rights and broadcasting for the IJF World Tour. This includes TV coverage, news coverage and partnership management with CNN, Eurosport, Euronews. Basically all the media outlets that the IJF world tour has are part of what I work with.
Can you tell us about the partnerships with CNN, Eurosport and Euronews? The partnership with CNN is basically about bringing judo to a global audience. CNN has a presence in over 190 countries so that is as wide a coverage as you can get. This partnership is a long-term one and it’s about growing the brand and the image of judo. Eurosport is a hardcore broadcaster of sports content. The idea of getting a hardcore sports channel on board is to have more events coverage. Eurosport, which is in 54 countries runs our 26-minute IJF World Tour highlights. This partnership is about connecting with the sports fan. Euronews is another global news channel. It reaches out more to the corporate world. If you go to a hotel, what you seen on the TV screens is probably Euronews. They run short highlight clips for every day of our IJF World Tour evets.
The IJF has made great strides with traditional media. Will there be any efforts to engage with social influencers? With the amount of attention and work that is required with the international media and conventional television it does take up a lot of our focus but yes, we recognize that social influencers are important. The fact that you are here and we are having this conversation could well be the start of that. The challenge with social media or unofficial media is the question of credibility. You can have 100 people come up to you and say I can do this and I can do that but we have to make sure they are credible and are not working against the spirit of our sport. I hope that you can help send out the message that we are one big judo family. Anyone who wants to contribute in a positive way, we welcome them.
Pool A: Tushishvili (GEO) The man everybody’s watching out for is Guram Tushishvili of Georgia. He had the fans cheering when he threw his much larger first opponent, Daniel Natea of Romania with osoto-gari for ippon. His next match, against the athletic Yakiv Khammo, was a crowd-pleaser too. First he threw him with a drop cross-grip seoi-nage to the right which was initially awarded ippon but then downgraded to waza-ari. After that he threw Khammo with a huge sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi that had the Ukrainian whirling through the air and landing flat on his back. Tushishvili was on fire. His next match, against Roy Meyer of the Netherlands, did not disappoint either. Meyer opened up the accounts with an ouchi-gari that had both players crashing through the sideboards. On two occasions – once in regular time and once in Golden Score – Tushishvili was awarded waza-ari only to have it erased. In both cases, Meyer was attempting a counter which caused the Dutch player to land on his back. Although Tushishvili was on top each time he was deemed to have lacked control in doing so. The third time Meyer tried to counter his attack, Tushishvili made sure he retained control and ippon was given.
Pool B: Ulzibayar (MGL) The expected winner of this pool was Hisayoshi Harasawa of Japan and indeed he made it to the quarterfinal where he met Duurenbayar Ulziibayar of Mongolia. He defeated his first opponent, Pedro Pineda of Venezuela with a seldom-seen ashi-gatame for ippon. Next, he defeated the very athletic Andy Granda of Cuba with uchimata sukashi followed by a pin for waza-ari-awasatte-ippon. He then defeated Harasawa with a spectacular drop ippon-seoi-nage for ippon. Pool C: Oltiboev (UZB) Pool C was the one where relative unknowns shined. The top seed was Brazil’s David Moura but he was stopped by Bekmurod Oltiboev of Uzbekistan who spun him onto his back with a drop cross grip seoi-nage to the left. This seemed to be a favourite move of Oltiboev as he had earlier thrown Liam Park of Australia with exactly the same move. Against Yerassyl Kazhybayev of Kazakhstan he relied on groundwork to win, with tate-shiho-gatame. In his quarterfinal match, against Temur Rakhimov of Tajikistan, he proved he had more than drop seoi-nage in his arsenal when he launched his opponent with harai-goshi for ippon. Pool D: Kokauri (AZE) Pool D was a highly anticipated one as it had Lukas Krpalek of Czeck Republic in there. If anyone is to stop Tushishvili, it’d be Krpalek. His first match was a very exciting one, against Henk Grol of the Netherlands. It would be a battle between two athletic fighters, which is the kind of fight the public wants to see. Grol scored first with a counter against Krpalek’s ouchi-gari. But Krpalek would bounce back with a kosoto-gake for ippon. Against Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia he first scored with hikkomi-gaeshi for waza-ari. Next, he countered Naidan’s uchimata attempt for waza-ari-awasatte-ippon. Krpalek looked on track to topping the pool but he was stopped by local darkhorse Ushangi Kokauri of Azerbaijan. It was a gripping quarterfinal match that could have gone either way. Kokauri scored first with uchimata for waza-ari. Krpalek replied with ouchi-gari for waza-ari. The match was settled when Kokauri used tewaza to take Krpalek down for waza-ari-awasatte-ippon.
Semifinal In the first semifinal Tushishvili threw Ulziibayar with a left-sided drop seoi-nage. In the other semifinal match, Kokauri threw Oltiboev with ouchi-gari for ippon within the opening seconds.
In the first bronze medal match, Oltiboev fought well against Harasawa but the Japanese player proved to be too big for him and overpowered him with osoto-gari for ippon.
In the second bronze medal match, Ulziibayar countered Krpalek’s sumi-gaeshi attempt for waza-ari. Because it was in Golden Score, this was enough to win him the match.
In the gold medal match, it looked like upstart Kokauri was going to win it for the home crowd. He countered Tushishvili’s favourite drop seoi-nage technique which the referee gave waza-ari for. Then he looked like he was going to pin Tushishvili. In the end, Tushishvili managed to escape the hold down and the waza-ari was cancelled because he had managed to put his arm out (if it had been tucked in, it would have been a score). It looked like the match would go into Golden Score when Tushishvili unleashed another one of his drop seoi-nages. This time it sent the Azeri player hurling onto the mat for ippon.