It’s been a feature of the World Judo Championships – Doha 2023 that many of the defending champions present have been unable to make the podium at all this time around, with many departing the competition before the quarter-final stages. It has been a reminder that defending, or indeed regaining, a world title is always harder than it is to win it for the first time.
Final Julia Tolofua (FRA) vs Akira Sone (JPN)

In the +78kg category, Romane Dicko (FRA) was the latest red backpatch holder to fall foul of this trend. Despite storming to the world title in Tashkent last year, her form had dipped of late, with two defeats to 35-year-old Kayra Sayit (TUR) in successive grand slams in 2023. Dicko was clearly not her usual self in Doha and was defeated by 20-year-old Asya Tavano (ITA) in round 2, by waza-ari. Her exit left an opportunity wide open for her teammate Julia Tolofua to exploit. And exploit it she did, also making a play for the Paris Olympic place.

Final Julia Tolofua (FRA) vs Akira Sone (JPN)

Seeded 5th, Tolofua began the day with a gentle tactical victory over Urdaneta (VEN) in round 2. Round 3 saw her take on the up-and-coming Marit Kamps (NED). The Frenchwoman eased through the contest, first throwing the Dutch fighter with o-uchi-gari for waza-ari in just 20 seconds, then again with uchi-mata in the 3rd minute to score a second waza-ari. In the quarter-final she met the formidable Beatriz Souza (BRA), who already has 2 senior world medals to her name and whom Tolofua had lost to in each of their last 3 meetings. The French judoka was set on changing the result this time around and did a great job of stopping Souza from taking the grips she needed. Around 90 seconds in, Tolofua finally managed to pin Souza’s strong arm and quickly attacked with de-ashi-harai and then a strong cross-grip o-soto-gari to throw the Brazilian flat on her back. Ippon was scored and a semi-final spot confirmed for Tolofua.

World champion, Akira Sone (JPN)

Tolofua’s opponent in that semi-final would be China’s Shiyan Xu, who had used her ashi-waza and ippon-seoi-nage attacks with great panache to get past Radic (CRO), Amarsaikhan (MGL) and Tavano. Naturally their contest turned out to be the toughest either had faced all day and it went to golden score with neither able to perform their favoured techniques. That was until the 7th minute of the contest, when a failed o-uchi-gari attempt from Xu allowed Tolofua the space to enter for an uchi-mata which landed the Chinese player on her side for waza-ari. Tolofua sealed a place in the final and made sure she went at least one step further than her bronze medal from Tashkent last year. 

World champion, Akira Sone (JPN)

With the legendary Idalys Ortiz (CUB) withdrawing from the competition before it had begun, the opposite half of the draw opened up for the Tokyo Olympic champion Akira Sone (JPN) to make her way through to the final to face Tolofua. Sone’s technical ability is among the best in the weight category, with her throwing power belying her relatively small stature. In round 2 against Ramazanova (KAZ), she used a beautiful and unusual ippon-seoi-nage, popularised by Rio 2016 Olympic champion at -90kg, Mashu Baker (JPN), to score ippon in the second minute of the contest. In her third-round contest against Mzougui (TUN), she scored a waza-ari using o-uchi-gari before turning the Tunisian over and holding her in osae-komi for ippon. 

Bronze medal contest, Beatriz Souza (BRA) vs Hayun Kim (KOR)

Sone’s quarter-final opponent was world number 2 Raz Hershko who was on typically dangerous form with her drop-knee attacks. The Israeli struggled to get underneath the Olympic champ however and Sone showed her class, catching Hershko cleanly with tai-otoshi for waza-ari and securing yoko-shiho-gatame for the win. 

Bronze medallist, Beatriz Souza (BRA)

Number 3 seed Hayun Kim would await Sone in the semi-final. Sone started the contest well, scoring waza-ari 30 seconds in with that same ippon-seoi-nage. Kim fought back valiantly, however, causing Sone to pick up two penalties for non-combativity but it wasn’t enough, as Sone held on to win through to her 2nd world championship final. 

Bronze medal contest, Raz Hershko (ISR) vs Shiyan Xu (CHN)

The final was a battle of left vs right and Sone consistently managed to take the inside grip on Tolofua’s lapel, preventing her opponent from closing the gap and using her favourite techniques. However, Tolofua’s height advantage also made it difficult for Sone to throw. After 11 minutes of fighting, it was Sone who came out on top, as Tolofua picked up a third and final shido. 22-year-old Sone claims her second world title; to have achieved this and an Olympic title at such a young age is nothing short of incredible. 

Bronze medallist, Raz Hershko (ISR)

The first bronze medal contest saw Souza face Kim for a place on the podium and it took only 1 minute to determine the winner. Souza gripped strongly around Kim’s head, attacked first with o-uchi-gari and then o-soto-gari, to floor her opponent for ippon. Kim was left distraught, but Souza was overjoyed; her 3rd world medal clearly meant just as much as the other two, if not more.

The other bronze medal match was contested between Hershko and Xu. Both players struggled to take grips on each other’s lapels and often ended up fighting from the sleeves. This played right into Herskho’s hands and she dropped in a for a low sode-tsurikomi-goshi to score a waza-ari. Xu almost levelled the score with uchi-mata but Hershko held on to claim her first world medal and the third for Israel at the tournament. 

Medals, chequest and mascots were presented by Mr Naser Al Tamimi, General Treasurer of the International Judo Federation, Mr Carol-Eduard Novak, Minister for Sports of Romania and Mr Florin Daniel Lascau, Head Referee Director of the International Judo Federation

Final (+78 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (+78 kg)

Final Results (+78 kg)

5. KIM Hayun (KOR)
5. XU Shiyan (CHN)

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