Assunta Scutto (ITA) led the field from the top spot on the sheet and looked every inch the leader from her very first grip. Her first contest, in round two, finished inside two minutes with her Uzbek opponent just not able to keep up, earning 3 penalties and an early exit. The Uzbek women’s team has been making incredible strides in the last 18 months but Scutto was a step too far today.
The other Italian, Francesca Milani, has had her work cut out to keep her place, with Scutto powering past her since her entry into the senior level in 2021, while still a junior. As a teenager Scutto began to amass WJT medals, including gold in Abu Dhabi just weeks after winning the 2021 junior worlds. Still at only 21 she continues to outdo her teammate, on average, and looks good for the Paris 2024 spot. At 29, this qualification period is Milani’s last chance and Scutto looks set to stamp all over it.
Further down the draw Martinez Abelenda (ESP), with a bye in the first round, had a strong Chinese opponent to pass in round two. She made it look easy with strategic gripping, an exemplary feeling on the edge of the contest area and the experience to employ the finest timing to score at just the right moment. She threw with a soto-makikomi when already two penalties up and in the same exchange the Chinese athlete had to suffer not only the score but also a third shido, this one for a leg grab. Abelenda was then ready to meet number 3 seed, Costa (POR), in the quarter-final. She won there too to find herself in the semi-final against Kurbonova (UZB) and that match also went in her favour.
Martinez Abelenda met Scutto in the final, the Italian being an almost guaranteed participant in the final of the category even before the day began. The youngster stays one step ahead of Milani, who lost out to Dudina (AIN) in the quarter-final, but then took a win against Leyla Aliyeva (AZE) by ippon.
The final was approached by Scutto as if she knew she should win, right from the start. She pout in a sumi-gaeshi after only 20 seconds that was close to scoring and then another attack almost straight away. A shido came for the Spanish judoka after a minute and she continued to work for little reward, not finding her rhythm against the barrage from the Italian. At full time Scutto led 2 shido to one but it was not illustrative of the one-sided nature of the fight.
However, at the hajime for the golden score period, Martinez Abelenda turned up the heat and managed to claw back that equalising shido, putting the Italian under more pressure. As it happened, that pressure fuelled Scutto to go for the win in a more decisive way, leaving nothing to chance. 1:24 into extra time, she flew under her opponent with a very fast seoi-nage to notch up the waza-ari needed to secure gold.
Milani faced Kurbonova for a bronze medal while the other was fought for by Dudina and home athlete Tynbayeva (KAZ). The first of these two contests began with a fierce gripping battle but one Milani struggled with, taking two penalties in the first half of the match. Then, with just over a minute to go, Kurbonova (UZB) timed a brilliant entry with ko-uchi gake to record a waza-ari on the board. Milani really came forward and hunted for her own score but it wasn’t to be, despite some very sharp transition. She latched on to an outstretched arm with seconds to go and found it difficult to accept that he time had run out before she could convert it into a score. It was bronze for the Uzbek and a tough 5th place for Milani.
The second bronze medal was won by Dudina (AIN), out of a furious fight, one which was non-stop, all-action throughout. It went to full time but with the spectators feeling like they had been on a rollercoaster for 4 minutes. Only a ko-uchi-gari with 22 seconds left on the clock had separated them.
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