Japan have such depth that only one member of their nominated team for this summer’s Olympic Games, Nagayama (-60 kg), will also be in action at the Abu Dhabi World Championships in two week’s time, yet still there is a full team of 14 judoka ready to push for yet another top-of-the-medal- table performance.
Nagayama enjoying his win at the 2023 Tokyo Grand Slam.

There is fun in this team, a real mix of world champions from yesteryear, juniors with massive spirit; undoubtedly a glance at some of the LA2028 team. There’s Dota Arai at -100 kg for a start, certainly a short-listed candidate for the Olympic spot despite his short CV and tender age. He’s the current junior world champion but also took silver in Tokyo last year, a significant result, backed up by bronze in Tashkent. He’s explosive and has incredible footwork, a joy to watch.

Dota Arai becoming junior world champion, 2023.

He’s accompanied by fellow junior world champion and namesake Mao Arai who went one better by topping the podium at the team’s home grand slam last year. Competing at +78 kg alongside some of the most powerful women of the combat sport world, she more than holds her own; in fact she holds the world’s best, proven by her ne-waza in Tokyo which took out formidable Israeli Raz Hershko.

Mao Arai winning at the 2023 Tokyo Grand Slam.

Then there is the old guard, a team of highly experienced champions, the most decorated of them being Shori Hamada, 33 years old and still not done! At -78 kg she won the worlds in 2018 and the Olympics in 2021. In 2024 she gets another shot at world domination while Takayama gets the Games.

-78 kg final at the 2022 Tokyo Grand Slam, Hamada vs Takayama.

Between the staple names and the juniors there are a number of judoka each with one or more major results, such as Takeshi Takeoka (-66 kg) who won Paris this year, Hyoga Ota who won the Asian Championships and Tashkent Grand Slam only weeks ago, Paris and Asian champion Ishihara (-73 kg), and 2023 Masters champion Wakana Koga (-48 kg).

The -48 kg podium at the 2023 World Judo Masters.

This will be a largely unseeded team in Abu Dhabi and that, with their ability not doubted, is going to cause a stir, unquestionably. Head to JudoTV to check out the stats, the videos and the medals and get to know this team because by the end of the month their names are likely to be on everyone’s lips!

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