Her grip on the category seemed sealed but the months that followed had a bitter taste for the French phenomenon. Beaten from the outset at the World Judo Championships Doha 2023, it left the door open for Akira Sone (JPN) who rushed in resolutely. She also let her teammate, Julia Tolofua steal the show. The latter, third in Tashkent, reached the final in Doha and showed that she was not afraid to win.
The French often arrive in fours and this morning we found Léa Fontaine and Coralie Hayme spread out, both able to claim places of honour. Fontaine being defeated immediately, only Hayme managed to continue in the repechage.
It was therefore no surprise that we found the Tolofua-Dicko duo ready to do battle for the Masters title in the final. Would it be the second for Dicko or the first for Tolofua?
Romane Dicko didn’t need to risk too much in the final, bringing superior gripping skills to the table and serving up a lesson in contest management. It took her 2 minutes and 45 seconds to out-manoeuvre Julia Tolofua, winning the final by 3 penalties to two. The women know each well, they have great respect for one another and no matter what the final result is, France takes home both the top heavyweight medals; gold for Dicko and silver for Tolofua, leaving Hayme and Fontaine with a great deal of work to do towards their home Games. After failing at the worlds, Dicko succeeds at the Masters.
China has a long history among heavyweights and we have seen them gaining momentum for several months. It was Xu, one of the two Chinese representatives, who eventually qualified for the first match for a bronze medal against Coralie Hayme (FRA). The French judoka tried it, but she clearly didn't have it to win today against Xu who threw her with a o-soto-o-soto conter attack before flipping her over and pin her down for ippon.
During the second match for bronze, we saw on the tatami Hayun Kim (KOR) and Karen Stevenson (NED), with a special mention for Stevenson who produced one of her best performances, sustained throughout the day. After a first victory against Kinga Wolszcak (POL), it must be said that she had a complicated second round facing the world number one and consistently ranked international competitor, Raz Hershko (ISR). This type of match, where Stevenson gives a lot of weight to her opponents, does not scare her and she therefore offered herself a victory against Raz to face Coralie Hayme in the next round; another victory. She finally stumbled against Tolofua in the semi-final. Stevenson opened the score with a beautiful seoi-nage for waza-ari but this triggered Kim who immediately launched an unstoppable o-uchi-gari. Bronze for Kim but hats off to Steven for a beautiful day.