The -78kg category features many of the most consistent and long standing athletes on the World Judo Tour. It is perhaps more common than in any other category to see athletes reach the top 20 in the world rankings and enjoy careers of 10 years or more at that level, consistently winning medals on the IJF circuit. As a result of this extensive competition, there has been no single dominant force in the category for 20 years and only 3 athletes have ever won multiple world titles in the division. All of this is to say, to become world champion in this category in particular is a monumental undertaking.
Final, Inbar Lanir (ISR) vs Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)

There is no athlete that illustrates this point better than France’s Audrey Tcheumeo. Purely in terms of the number of major medals won, she is the most decorated French judoka in history, with an unbelievable 36 medals on the IJF World Judo Tour. She won her first world championship gold all the way back in 2011 in front of her home crowd, at the age of 21, but has never been able to regain that title. Now 33, she has recently been in the form of her life, winning silver in the 2022 Jerusalem Masters and then back-to-back grand slam golds in Paris and Antalya, all while making it look easy. All the signs were there; this would be the year that she would finally regain her world title, a full 12 years later. However, as we’ve discussed, nothing is ever certain at -78kg.

Final, Inbar Lanir (ISR) vs Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)

From the early rounds it was clear that the Frenchwoman had carried her great form to the World Judo Championships – Doha 2023. She made light work of her opposition and powered through to the final, with only 1 of her 4 preliminary matches lasting the full 4 minutes. In round 2 she began with a tactical victory over Olaya (COL), with the Columbian picking up a 3rd penalty for passivity in the final minute. Tcheumeo was just getting warmed up, clearly, as she then threw Kantsavaya (AIN) in round 3 in just 20 seconds, scoring ippon with a driving o-uchi-gari.

Final, Inbar Lanir (ISR) vs Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)

In the quarter-final she met Shori Hamada (JPN), the current Olympic champion, but whom Tcheumeo had recently beaten in the final of the 2023 Antalya Grand Slam. The result this time was no different; the Frenchwoman took even less time to score, throwing for waza-ari with de-ashi-harai in just 8 seconds. If that wasn’t remarkable enough, she later pinned the renowned ne-waza specialist to score her 2nd waza-ari.

Final, Inbar Lanir (ISR) vs Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)

Tcheumeo’s semi-final opponent was a very familiar face, that of Guusje Steenhuis (NED), over whom she held a 6-2 winning record stretching back to 2012. The Dutchwoman took the French star to time, but a waza-ari scored by Tcheumeo after the 1st minute with o-uchi-gari was enough to send her through to her 3rd world final and her first in 9 years. This train was not slowing down.

World champion, Inbar Lanir

In the opposite half of the draw, world number 1 Alice Bellandi was best placed to join Tcheumeo in the final. She looked strong in the early rounds, throwing Figueroa (PER) twice for waza-ari scores and taking solid tactical wins over both Ausma (NED) in round 3 and then Lee (KOR) in the quarter-final.

Bronze medallist, Guusje Steenhuis (NED)

In the semi-final she met number 4 seed Inbar Lanir (ISR), whom she had never lost to in any of their 4 previous meetings. Lanir was in even better form, finishing off all 3 of her previous opponents on the ground. She countered throwing attempts from Pacut-Kloczko, Brolih (SLO) and 2022 world silver medallist Ma (CHN) to score waza-ari, before pinning them all to finish off the contests. In the semi-final Bellandi hit the ground running with a low seoi-nage which scored waza-ari but in the second minute Lanir countered an o-uchi-gari attempt from the Italian with a strong hikikomi-gaeshi, which landed Bellandi flat on her back for ippon. Neither player could believe what had happened. Lanir had guaranteed herself a first world medal and set up a first ever meeting with Tcheumeo.

Bronze medal contest, Shori Hamada (JPN) vs Alice Bellandi (ITA)

The final was every bit as dramatic as was hoped for. Lanir came close to scoring with sumi-otoshi at the end of the 1st minute and at the end of the 2nd, a 50-50 exchange landed both players on their back. Ippon was initially awarded to Lanir by the referee, but after video review it was retracted. Tcheumeo struggled to take her usual strong grips and Lanir took full advantage with a strong over-the-top grip and threw the Frenchwoman for an incredible ippon with uki-otoshi. It is a phenomenal result for the 23-year-old, who claims the first medal for her country at these championships and her first ever gold medal on the IJF World Judo Tour. What a time to do it!

The first of the bronze medal matches was contested between Ma and Steenhuis. It was a tense contest and neither player was able to score. In the 6th minute of the contest, Ma picked up a 3rd penalty, handing Steenhuis a 3rd world medal and a 2nd bronze.

The second bronze medal contest was fought between Bellandi and Hamada. The fight was dominated by the Italian, as she out-gripped and out-attacked the Olympic champion; Hamada ended up being penalised for the 3rd and final time with 30 seconds left on the clock. Bellandi clearly wasn’t content with the colour of her first world medal; as she exited the tatami, she turned to the cameras, pointed to the mat and called, “Next time!” The judo world is looking forward to it.

Medals, chequest and mascots were presented by Mr Moshe Ponti, IJF Coordination Committee of Directors Member, EJU Development Director and Israeli Judo Assocation President, Mr Cosmin Balcacean, IJF Guest and Mr Vlad Marinescu, Director General of the International Judo Federation

Final (-78 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (-78 kg)

To watch more images of the World Judo Championships - Doha 2023 - CLICK HERE

See also