First there was Alice Bellandi (ITA), world number one, an explosive and powerful judoka that few have managed to beat lately but, unfortunately for her, things didn't really go as planned and she had to go back to the locker room after the first round, beaten by Hyunji Yoon (KOR).
Then there was former world champion Anna-Maria Wagner, crowned here in Budapest in 2021, who we have seen taking part in many competitions this season, with gold in Tbilisi and Austria and a silver in Dushanbe. However, disrupted in her preparation by several minor injuries, she arrived in Budapest visibly out of shape, in terms of having to perform at this level. She was eliminated by the young Ukrainian Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko, 2022 world bronze medallist, in the first round.
It remained to be seen what would become of the brand new reigning world champion, Inbar Lanir (ISR). Could she handle the pressure of her brand new red bib? We were quickly fixed because in all Lanir did not spend more than a minute on the tatami, propelling all her opponents of the day on their backs with consistency, including Jeongyun Lee (KOR) in the semi-final in less than ten seconds. It was a job well done which shows that her world title has rather given her wings.
The writing was on the wall for her opponent in the final and this is where we come to the last notable point in this category: the French! Along with the heavyweights, the -78kg category is a French speciality, with several athletes competing for honours and laurels for many years. Today we had Madeleine Malonga, a world champion and Olympic medallist, 2019 Masters winner Fanny Estelle Posvite, 2023 Paris Grand Slam medallist Chloe Buttigieg and undoubtedly one of the stars of the category, Audrey Tcheumeo, double Olympic medallist, four-time world medallist including the title in 2011 in Paris.
It was Malonga and Posvite who had the best run of the day, meeting in the semi-finals towards a victory for Malonga on penalties, a victory which enabled her on the one hand to join Lanir in the final and to show that she is back to her best, on the other. Competition promises to be tough in France for the Olympic spot in the months to come.
Madeleine Malonga has had a fantastic day, looking like the Malonga who became world champion in 2019. She came out choosing to cancel any kind of force from Lanir but the Israeli has demonstrated many times now that if someone wants to break her posture and rhythm she will confidently pick them up and escape the situation with a perfect response, ippon! She did the same in this Masters final, delivering a thundering ura-nage under the powerful grip of the Frenchwoman.
It took Lanir almost a minute to secure the gold having spent a total of just under a minute in the tatami for all the rest of her contests put together. It was an incredible performance and one worthy of a current world champion. Lanir has immediately grown into her title and competed with both focus and joy.
The first match for a bronze medal saw Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko (UKR) and Jeongyun Lee (KOR) meet. The medal was easily won by Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko who clearly dominated the contest winning after scoring two waza-ari, the first on an action-reaction and the second with a powerful sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi, as Jeongyun Lee was standing up.
Lieke Derks (NED) and Fanny Estelle Posvite (FRA) fought for a place on the podium. Halfway to the end, Posvite score a waza-ari with te-waza technique and pined down her opponent to score ippon.