In Baku there are two categories with as many as 6 of the world’s top ten present: -57 kg and -100 kg. This is extraordinary density and shows the value of fighting here in terms of having opportunities at this stage in the cycle to keep learning from fighting the best opposition.

Today the lightweights are competing and so we can leave observations regarding the -100 kg men’s group until day 3; for now the focus is on the -57 kg women.

Bilodid winning in round 1.

Numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 10 have travelled to Azerbaijan, among them a double world champion, an Olympic champion and the silver medallist from the same Games and this is without mentioning Daria Bilodid (UKR), herself a double world champion and Olympic medallist.

Bilodid remains at 15th on the World Ranking List, climbing well since her arrival in the category in April 2022. This place in the rankings, however certain she may be of qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games, can throw up anomalies during an event draw and in Baku that has been the case. As number 8 seed in Baku she was drawn in the same quarter as the world number one meaning an incredible quarter-final was on the cards.

Bilodid's win in round two; almost identical to her round one victory.

In the early rounds neither had much trouble, each employing, for example, thunderous osoto-gari attacks, each including a free lesson in the fine art of ‘kake’ (the final execution of a technique). Their throws may have had the same name but they were anything but carbon copies.

Deguchi's first contest of the day.

Deguchi (CAN) threw Kowalczyk (POL) in the round of 16 from her traditional sleeve and lapel grip, right-sided, latching on to the far leg and blocking any step from uke but rather creating a pivot point over which the Polish judoka spun, cleanly and without argument. We may have mentioned ‘kake’ but the ’tsukuri’ was also impregnable.

See Deguchi's osoto-gari here:

Bilodid preferred to take the collar at the back of Salonen’s (FIN) neck with her left hand and the sleeve with her right. Already breaking the posture of the Fin with incredible downward pressure, she launched a fast entry, catching Salonen at the ankle and sweeping the foot away, driving her left hand to the floor.

See Bilodid's osoto-gari here.

So, with those wins already logged, the quarter-final was registered, every other quarter-finalist happy not to face them at that stage. Deguchi worked, as expected, from the lapel, right-handed and searching for the o-uchi-gari as against Bilodid’s pressure and range, the osoto was an unlikely ally. Bilodid aimed at the double collar grip, strong from the left side. These opposite styles went in the Canadian’s favour at first, ashi-waza coming inside and outside, antagonising Bilodid’s front foot.

In the second minute Bilodid piled on the pressure, crushing Deguchi’s head, breaking her posture and forcing weaker attacks and it worked, bringing Deguchi the first penalty of the contest. However, putting weight on an opponent’s head is not the same as attacking with a judo technique and the strategy eventually unravelled to equalise the penalties, a first for Bilodid being delivered for passivity. A minute into golden score and she took a second in the same way.

At a little over 5 and a half minutes of contest time, the Canadian struggling to find her posture and not enjoying having to attack from imperfect positions, Bilodid strengthened her strategy, despite the previous two penalties on her side of the scoreboard. She leant hard on Deguchi’s head, in itself not a problem, in fact very effective in neutralising the world number one’s game, but she did so without adding attacks of her own. This led to her receiving a third penalty.

The last penalty.

The Deguchi-Bilodid contest ended so differently from any of their earlier rounds, neither of them able to break through in the same way as they had before. No ippon came and penalties were the decider but it was nothing other than fascinating watching two of the world’s best analyse, solve, neutralise and strategise. They are both capable of incredible things and to fight with 100% power against another of their own calibre could have invited a mistake.

A quarter-final win for Christa Deguchi (CAN).

Christa moved forward and Bilodid dropped into the repechage with medals still available for both. Could it be an Olympic Games trailer?

See also