Name: Ebinuma Masashi
Weight category: -73kg
World ranking: No ranking at -73kg, 117 at -66kg
Best result: World champion/Olympic bronze medallist
Three-time world champion and double Olympic bronze medallist EBINUMA Masashi (JPN) is back! The Japanese great, 28, who has been a household name in the -66kg category for the best part of a decade, returns at a new weight category after 18 months in the wilderness.
Since winning bronze at Rio 2016 EBINUMA has been usurped by ABE who initially began to make his name in Japan by beating the former as a teenager in domestic competitions.
EBINUMA was elected as a new member of the IJF Athlete’s Commission last year and spoke of his desire to try out the next weight class up and here he is to the delight of his supporters.
The excitement surrounding his return could be felt at Friday’s draw with the -73kg category drawing particular attention from the media and coaches.
Japan now boast a formidable trio at -73kg with EBINUMA joining Olympic champion ONO Shohei and world champion HASHIMOTO Soichi in arguably their country’s strongest category having held the world title since 2010.
Name: LIEN Chen-Ling
Country: Chinese Taipei
Weight category: -57kg
World ranking: 12
Best result: Baku Grand Slam 2017 gold
Chinese Taipei’s LIEN Chen-ling has once claimed Grand Slam gold and could shock the category’s most heralded judoka on day one in Russia.
LIEN, who lives and trains in Japan, finished fifth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The 30-year-old uchi-mata specialist medalled in Baku and at the Asian Championships last year before concluding her season with a disappointing first round exit at the World Judo Masters in December.
LIEN opens her 2018 campaign in Russia and will be much more active than in 2017 with Olympic qualification getting underway in May this year. The four-time Grand Slam medallist will feel that a medal is within her capabilities and has the bonus of a first round bye.
The -57kg talent starts in the second round against Soumiya IRAOUI (MAR) and from there could go all the way to gold for Chinese Taipei.
Watch #JudoRussia2018 live and free on Saturday and Sunday here on the IJF website