We're not going to tell any lies; the final that everyone was secretly waiting for was a final between the legend Teddy Riner, individual double Olympic champion, Olympic mixed team champion and eleven times world champion, and Tatsuru Saito (JPN), the one whose destiny as a judo great has been announced for years. Without revealing too much in advance, let's put this final aside for later and return to what made it possible.
Final, Tatsuru Saito (JPN) vs Teddy Riner (FRA)

Number one seed in the tournament, Andy Granda (CUB), world champion in Tashkent in 2022, arrived following two good performances, a second place in Linz and a third in Tbilisi last week, enough to give him confidence. However, he fell from the start of the competition against Marius Fizel (SVK). Very strong, the latter continued his momentum to reach the quarter-finals against Valeriy Endovitskiy (AIN), who then ruined all his hopes.

Final, Tatsuru Saito (JPN) vs Teddy Riner (FRA)

In Pool B, Saito's competition took place under the best conditions. A first victory against Kacper Szczurowski (POL) on the ground was followed by a tactical win against Igor Vracar (SRB), then another against hokhrukhkhon Bakhtiyorov (MGL), once again on the ground. Finally, in the semi-final, Saito had to wait patiently for golden score to register a waza-ari against Endovitskiy and enter the final.

Gold medallist, Teddy Riner (FRA)

In the second half of the draw, it was the return of Martti Puumalainen (FIN), winner of last year's World Judo Masters and reigning European champion, which attracted all eyes. The Finn began his tournament perfectly by eliminating Mbagnick Ndiaye (SEN), then Vito Dragic (SLO), before being subjected to the law of Erik Abramov (GER), first with a throw, later concluded with an immobilisation. In the repechage Puumalainen was on par with Rafael Silva (BRA), but gave in to penalties.

It remained to know Teddy Riner's journey, to complete the picture. His first opponent of the day, Azamat Chotchaev (BRN), did not last long, quickly finding himself flat on his back after an o-soto-gari arrived full of precision and power. Jur Spijkers (NED) could not resist the devastating power of Riner either and conceded three fatal penalties, as did Rafael Silva (BRA) a few minutes later. In the semi-final, it was ultimately Erik Abramov who posed the most problems for the Frenchman, relatively. There was nothing particularly dangerous, except a move to the ground at the initiative of Riner which could have turned to the German's advantage but that was in another life, in another improbable scenario, given the control demonstrated by Teddy throughout the day. After 24 seconds he scored a first waza-ari with a counter and then managed his lead well, making Abramov receive penalties three times.

Bronze medal contest, Shokhrukhkhon Bakhtiyorov (UZB) vs Erik Abramov (GER)

And here was the long-awaited finale. The least we can say is that it was not an easy win for Teddy Riner, far from it. Saito looked better prepared for the contest than his illustrious opponent. Better with the kumi-kata, more precise in his attacks, Saito was a permanent threat to Riner, who was waiting for the mistake. For a long time it didn't come, Saito trying uchi-mata, tai-otoshi and other combinations while the French judoka was penalised twice. The pressure was rising a notch. Would it be a throw for Saito? Would it be a third penalty for Riner? Eventually it was a throw for Riner who countered Saito with great opportunism, scoring waza-ari. Saito kept pushing but that was not enough in front of Riner's experience.

There was a lot to learn today. Riner is still on top, knowing that he is not at the peak of his form yet, neither are the other athletes. But the gap with someone like Saito is closing. What will be the outcome this summer? Nobody knows and that makes it so exciting.

Bronze medal contest, Rafael Silva (BRA) vs Valeriy Endovitskiy (AIN)

The first match for a bronze medal was between Shokhrukhkhon Bakhtiyorov (UZB) and Erik Abramov (GER). If the German was a little smaller than his opponent, he was not the last to use power and launch massive movements, which he actually did twice. The first waza-ari came with a counter-attack, the second was especially spectacular, a massive koshi-guruma. The landing was not exactly there but it was enough for a second waza-ari giving him the victory. Well done Erik Abramov!

Rafael Silva (BRA) and Valeriy Endovitskiy (AIN) headlined for the second bronze medal. The first part of the contest seemed quite balanced but step by step, Silva looked more and more tired and eventually he was thrown for waza-ari before being pinned for ippon. It was a beautiful win for Valeriy Endovitskiy.

Medals, cheques and flowers were presented by Mr Marius Vizer, IJF president, and Mr Sezer Huysuz, president of the Turkish Judo Federation and EJU Sport Director

Final (+100 kg)

See also