Nagayama threw Aversa (ITA) and Christodoulides (CYP), along with 2019 world champion Lukhumi Chkhvimiani (GEO) and Ayub Bliev (AIN) with his typically stylish throws to book his spot in the final. Takato needed golden score to beat Valadier Picard (FRA) in round 1, but was more efficient against Lin in round 2. He reversed his fortunes from the world championships earlier this year by beating Harim Lee (KOR) on penalties in round 3 and had to come from behind to beat Carlino in a nail-biting quarter-final contest. A win over compatriot and current All-Japan champion Taiki Nakamura (JPN) in the semi-final put him through to face his rival in the final, one that all judo fans were waiting for.
That final was everything we hoped for. Nagayama came very close to scoring with ippon seoi-nage at the 2-minute mark but there were strong attacks from both players, with Takato picking up one penalty in normal time. In golden score, after a short medical delay, Nagayama produced a moment of magic. He threatened to throw Takato to his right side with uchi-mata, before switching to the left to drop underneath him with seoi-otoshi and score ippon, catching Takato completely unawares. Nagayama levels the head-to-head between the two on the world circuit at 3-3, taking an incredible 11th grand slam gold medal and strengthens his case for selection for the Paris 2024 Games.
Balabay Aghayev (AZE) and Bliev fought it out for the first bronze medal. Bliev maintained an extraordinary pace during the first 5 minutes of the contest, which Aghayev struggled to match and the Azeri picked up two penalties during that time. Although Aghayev came close to scoring later in golden score, Bliev struck the crucial blow, countering a tired kata-guruma attempt from his opponent to score waza-ari after 8 minutes of fighting. Bliev doubled his grand slam medal tally having already won bronze in Abu Dhabi in October.
The second bronze medal contests was decided between Chkhvimiani and Nakamura. The Japanese athlete took less than 2 minutes to defeat the Georgian, applying hara-zutsumi and then freeing his trapped leg to lock in an osaekomi and take his first ever grand slam medal, adding to his grand prix bronze from Portugal at the beginning of the year. Though he won’t challenge Takato or Nagayama for Olympic qualification in this cycle, he is certainly one to watch for the future.