How long does it take to build a respectable Olympic ranking? A couple of good years, a whole Olympic cycle or is the answer really that it takes a lifetime? With just 100 days to go until the Paris Olympic Games 2024, the seeding is becoming clearer and the names we have learned to expect aligned with podium finishes are making their final adjustments to finalise seeding at the most eagerly awaiting meet of the current Olympiad. The Olympic Ranking List number ones may not yet be confirmed for the big days ahead but the list is still fascinating. How much might it change by the end of qualification in June?

-60 kg: Ryuju Nagayama (JPN)

There are only 22 points between Nagayama and Mkheidze (FRA) at the top of this list. This is a noteworthy race as it illustrates, potentially on day one of the Games, the intense battle for supremacy between these two great judo nations. This is not just a hunt for seeding but for the number one slot at the top of the Olympic draw. The first and only Olympic Mixed Team Event title so far went to France, knocking a serious dent into Japan’s shield of pride; they will not be volunteering to repeat that result. Although the -60 kg category will not feature in the team event, the rivalry continues.

Ryuju Nagayama (JPN) won the 2023 Tokyo Grand Slam ahead of current Olympic champion and teammate Takato (JPN).

Nagayama doesn’t compete often but when he does, certainly in this cycle, he makes it count. He hasn’t competed since last year’s Tokyo Grand Slam but he won gold there just as he did at the Masters 4 months before and the Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam a few weeks before that. To be the number one at this stage with only 3 perfect results in recent memory is quite astounding. Whether he fights again before the Games or not, he will want every outing to be bathed in gold in just the same way in the coming months.

-66 kg: Denis Vieru (MDA)

Bronze medals in Tokyo, Baku, at the Tashkent World Championships, Jerusalem Masters and the 2023 Paris Grand Slam, combined with silver at the most recent Masters, a continental title and a few smaller results, Vieru has maintained his pole position for quite some time.

Vieru (MDA) on his way to gold in Tbilisi, 2022.

However, now just one place below him sits Hifumi Abe with a completely different record. Abe competed just twice in 2023, winning gold in Tokyo and at the worlds. In 2022 it was a similar story: the world title and a grand slam appearance, also gold. So far in 2024 he has only registered once, in Antalya a couple of weeks ago and so it looks like he plans to stick to his annual two event rule with the Olympics looming. He hasn’t lost a contest since August 2019 and we can be sure he intends to maintain that record. Vieru might be number one on the list but if Abe gets his way, it will be him who is number one on all lists once their Paris rendezvous is archived. He may be somewhat irked by not being the top seed going into the Olympic Games but he will be feeling his own truth about that and Vieru will need to do something extraordinary to hold his ranking beyond 28th July.

-73 kg: Hidayat Heydarov (AZE)

Heydarov (AZE) wins on Hashimoto's (JPN) home ground, 2023.

Heydarov has been a whirlwind of excitement throughout this Olympic cycle, delivering some of the most exciting, spectacular and joyful judo on the World Judo Tour. A product of an ever-more integrated and comprehensive programme in Azerbaijan, this former junior world champion, now seeks Olympic glory and despite challenges from Hashimoto, finally present after the retirement of Shohei Ono, Georgian legend Shavdatuashvili and many others, Heydarov might just be able to pull it off. His explosive but intelligent judo has become unmissable for judo fans around the world and in Paris he will be focused on nothing but the title.

-81 kg: Matthias Casse (BEL)

Among a stellar group of incredible athletes, Matthias Casse has topped this category for the majority of the last year. He has already taken part in 4 world finals, the last 3 of them facing Tato Grigalashvili (GEO) and he has an impressive ability to keep going no matter what he’s faced with. This Belgian judoka never gives up and in Paris he will be keen to climb a little higher than the bronze medal step on which he stood in Tokyo just 3 years ago.

Matthias Casse (BEL) winning the world title in 2021.

Casse’s most direct rival, the Georgian, hasn’t fought since the 2023 European Championships but he’s in the starting line-up for this year’s continental meet and that brings a high chance of yet another meeting for the world number one and world number two, with a world championships and the Olympic Games still to come this year. There are no guarantees for either of them but we know Casse’s engine is highly tuned and copes with endurance well. He’s ready to play the long game for the biggest prize.

-90 kg: Lasha Bekauri (GEO)

Always a crowd-favourite, the Georgian Olympic champion wants a shot a doubling his Olympic haul, a feat which would shoot him into the annals of sporting history. Only 15 judoka have ever won more than one Olympic judo title, a most exclusive club, and Bekauri wants his seat at that table.

Bekauri (GEO) enjoyed winning at home this year.

Bekarui doesn’t win every time he competes but at only 23 he already has an Olympic gold, 2 junior world titles and two senior world medals, 2 Masters titles and a plethora of other accolades. His judo is fun and stressful to watch in equal measure as no-one ever knows which direction he will move next. This nail-biting style is attractive and has brought him into the spotlight as much as his titles have. Will Paris deliver his next and biggest prize?

-100 kg: Ilia Sulamanidze (GEO)

The Georgian sits at the top of the Olympic rankings ahead of 2022 world champion Muzaffarbek Turoboyev (UZB). Sulamanidze has yet to earn his own senior world medal, finishing in an excruciating 5th place in both 2022 and 2023 but despite this, he has collected medals all over the world, has won his last 3 grand slams fairly convincincingly and has World Judo Masters gold and bronze in his pocket. He is still relatively new to senior judo, being only 22 but somehow there is an expectation of glory around this youngster who has moved into a category of big men as if his age were irrelevant.

+100 kg: Ian Tasoev (AIN)

Tasoev is way ahead of the chasing pack, more than 1300 points ahead of fellow world champion Andy Granda (CUB) and 1500 points ahead of Japanese promise Tatsuru Saito. This category though, regardless of points, remains hotly contested as one of the greatest judoka ever to compete is focused solely on winning his 3rd Olympic title to launch him ahead of the incredible Tadahiro Nomura on the all-time medal table. Nomura (JPN) won the Games in 1996, 2000 and 2004 but only has one world title. A third individual Olympic gold to accompany his single bronze, his team gold and 11 senior world titles will ensure no-one ever doubts that Teddy Riner (FRA) is the greatest judoka ever to have lived and his result are unlikely to ever be matched. The Abes may try but Teddy’s record could become the holy grail of goals.

Inal Tasoev (AIN) and Teddy Riner (FRA) at the 2023 Doha World Championships.

Inal Tasoev, though, has thrown the French superstar and they were delivered their red back patches together after a fascinating final at the Doha World Championships, 2023. Tasoev is fast, dynamic, as strong as they come and also delivers technical judo and an unbreakable will. The outcome in Paris, even if it is Teddy’s home turf, remains uncertain.

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