Despite the absence of current Olympic champion Akira Sone and former world champion Sarah Asahina at +78kg, the 4-strong Japanese team for the Tokyo Grand Slam 2023 might have been expected to make a clean sweep of the medals in the weight class. It’s safe to say, the visiting athletes didn’t make it so easy.
Final, Mao Arai (JPN) vs Lea Fontaine (FRA)

World number 2 and top seed Raz Hershko (ISR) breezed past Hyebin Lee (KOR) in her first contest, before defeating the host nation’s Maya Segawa in the quarter-final. Hikaru Kodama (JPN) was able to pass the test of world number 6 Beatriz Souza (BRA), but was unable to repeat the feat against grand slam newcomer Saetbyeol Park (KOR) in their quarter-final. Former junior world champion Ruri Takahashi (JPN) was beaten in round 2 by France’s Lea Fontaine.

Final, Mao Arai (JPN) vs Lea Fontaine (FRA)

Japan’s final hope of a gold medal in the category lay with their recently-crowned junior world champion Mao Arai. The 20-year-old answered the call and put in a performance beyond her years, holding down all of her opponents for ippon. In Round 1 she turned over and held Wolczak (POL) using kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame. Against Kamps (NED) in round 2, she applied a strong yoko-shiho-gatame to secure the victory, while Startseva (AIN) succumbed to the Japanese prodigy in similar fashion in the quarter-final. In the semi-final against Hershko, Arai avoided a makikomi attempt by the Israeli before pinning her using kata-gatame.

Gold medallist, Mao Arai (JPN)

Arai faced the much bigger Fontaine in the final. Fontaine had excelled in her earlier contests, defeating all of her previous opponents by ippon, all without picking up a single penalty. The Frenchwoman came out hunting for another ippon throw, but Arai weathered the storm and took her chance in the first minute of golden score, using the same turnover and hold as she did in round 1 to take the win. Arai made the transition to senior level with ease and looks to have a bright future ahead of her. Fontaine takes an excellent silver but will certainly wish she could have gone all the way.

Bronze medal contest, Hikaru Kodama (JPN) vs Raz Hershko (ISR)

The first bronze medal contests, between Hershko and Kodama, was over almost before it had begun. The Israeli wasted no time in throwing the Japanese for ippon with a two-sleeve o-soto-gari in just 13 seconds. Hershko adds a 6th grand slam bronze to her already vast collection.

Bronze medal contest, Elis Startseva (AIN) vs Saetbyeol Park (KOR)

The second bronze medal contest saw Startseva take on Park and it was the Korean who took a tactical victory after earlier infringements from her opponent gave her a shido advantage. The 21-year-old took her first grand slam medal at the first time of asking and what a place to do it.

Medals, cheques and flowers were presented by Mr Jean Luc Rougé, International Development and Promotion Director of the International Judo Federation, and Ms Midori Shintani, Councilor of All Japan Judo Federation

Final (+78 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (+78 kg)

See also