On day 1 in Tel Aviv, 25 year old Australian Josh Katz hit a target, one that was set for the whole of 2023. “I aim to fight for two medals on the World Judo Tour this year and so half the job is now done!”

Josh is one of two brothers travelling the world for many years, doing all they can to improve and to achieve. Like all top level judoka, they aim at the world and Olympic stages. Both made it to Rio in 2016 and older brother Nathan then also made it to Tokyo in 2021. Both have Paris 2024 in mind and neither plans on relinquishing that goal.

Josh said, “That’s what we are doing now, at the beginning of the year, 6 weeks away at a time until July, just short periods at home. In Australia the numbers are still rising but for now we need to find partners and diverse styles away from home.

The girls of the team are in a great position and doing well at all the tournaments but us in the men’s team had some injuries to cope with last year and it held us back so now we are doing the catch up work.”

Josh placed 5th in Tel Aviv having never reached a World Judo Tour final block before. He has a handful of continental open medals and has reached the rostrum at continental championships but the big leagues have always been just out of reach.

Fighting for bronze in Tel Aviv

In round one in Israel Josh beat Pulkrabek (CZE) and moved into a contest with number 4 seed and 2019 world champion Chkhvimiani (GEO), “I have trained with the Georgian before and that gave me a lot of confidence, I felt that I could beat him. I felt good in Portugal and Paris but wasn’t quite there yet. After getting through the first round in Israel I really wanted to fight him and thought I felt more ready. It’s exciting to fight against people with results and a strong profile. I wanted that opportunity."

Josh Katz (AUS) beating Pulkrabek (CZE)

Josh won on 3 penalties to nil and controlled a very risky fight expertly. He then lost to eventual gold medallist Mkheidze of France before throwing Aversa (ITA) for ippon to jump into the bronze medal contest. He lost to his Belgian opponent by a waza-ari despite looking like the stronger of the two for the first half of the match. 5th place is never easy to accept but it is, in this case, a massive step up and an indicator that the years of work are finally bearing fruit.

“We go home on Monday and then we are back out for Georgia and Turkiye, staying afterwards in Europe for camps. Then we are home for a bit for final prep before the worlds in Doha.

You know, Nathan and I spoke before fighting yesterday, about sometimes not always celebrating the good days because we don’t accept that they are good. It’s easy to overlook good days when there isn’t a medal attached and that was a perfect example. I was devastated afterwards for a good while. I felt I was getting closer and closer to the win but by the time we got on the bus, at the end of the competition, I looked at the day as a whole and I have to be happy with this next step on the World Judo Tour. It’s a miserable life in sport if we only celebrate medals so, on reflection, it was a really great day.

I want to be in the top 20 by the end of this year. I already feel in a better place than at the time of my injury last year and so that’s good; I can feel the improvement and believe I can meet these goals, maybe even exceed them.”

Josh and brother Nathan now live in Melbourne, having moved from their native Sydney in order to be able to train full time at the newly opened national training centre. The new set-up is making a difference to the whole team, providing much more consistent contact with the coach, Daniel Kelly.

Katz with Australian national coach Daniel Kelly

The Australian team is becoming more and more successful, with Coughlan and Haecker being particularly present, both now with World Judo Tour medals and placings. This fuels the upswing and adds to the team’s confidence. It’s a good position to be in, an exciting one, one they can be proud of collectively.

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