The countdown is well and truly on! 2024 seemed a long way off when we were sat in the Nippon Budokan back in the summer of 2021 but it took no time at all to get here. The Olympic Games is speeding towards us at lightning pace and soon the seedings the judoka have been working for will have an impact on their Olympic dreams. Every point matters and every win feeds the performance of the big day.

Ahead of the Portugal Grand Prix, the first World Judo Tour meet of 2024, we have been taking a look at the current world number ones and today it’s the turn of the women.

-48 kg Assunta Scutto (ITA)

In 2019 Scutto amassed an outstanding list of prizes on the cadet stage including becoming European -18 champion and a world medallist. In 2021 she took similar crowns at the junior level with familiar but reversed results at the two milestone events, alongside a gold at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam that November.

It was gold for Scutto in Abu Dhabi in 2023 too.

The 21 year old Italian has accelerated through the ranks staggeringly fast and in 2023 she claimed 3 grand slam golds and medals at both the Masters and the Doha World Championships. She’s now 800 points clear at the top of the table ahead of Tsunoda, a decade her senior but the champion in Doha, her 3rd senior world title, and in Tokyo just a few weeks ago. Tsunoda has never competed at the Games but she wants that gold to complete her collection and at 31 this might be her last chance.

The Parisien contingent has already been decided, with Boukli pipping Pont to selection despite being only one place below her on the WRL, they’re at 4 and 3 respectively.

-52 kg Distria Krasniqi (KOS)

The Kosovan Olympic champion sits ahead of Buchard according to the rankings but it was Buchard who took gold at the 2023 World Judo Masters, beating Krasniqi. She’s not been used to silver medals until this year but that was definitely her colour in 2023, not winning an event since Paris in February. However, silver at Tbilisi, the Europeans, the Masters and Baku is a pretty impressive record and we all know she can do it when it really counts. Krasniqi will be hard to beat in Paris!

Krasniqi (KOS) and Buchard (FRA)

Keldiyorova sits at number 3 but despite some immaculate performances, to stay in that position on Olympic day will take some doing as just below her are Olympic medallists Giuffrida (ITA) and Giles (GBR) and a little further down the list is the undisputed queen of the category, Uta Abe.

Tokyo Grand Slam 2023 gold for Uta Abe

Abe, like her older brother, is, at 23 years old, a seemingly impassable challenge. She hasn’t lost a contest since she was a teen; in fact she has had only one single loss since her first full year on the IJF Tour, back in 2017. Her online record is a string of 1s: 4 world titles, an Olympic gold and 12 further WJT golds. Interestingly, as an aside, she has never competed at the Masters. In the summer just ahead of us, anything less than gold will be felt deeply as a failure. The Abes plan to do something unthinkable in the French capital and yet we are all thinking it.

-57 kg Christa Deguchi (CAN)

The Canadian discussion has been red hot for many years now with Deguchi and Klimkait needing to beat the rest of the world in order to get to each other and have a chance to prove supremacy. Christa has two world titles to Klimkait’s one but the latter has the Olympic bronze medal too after earning the right to travel to Tokyo in the summer of 2021, ahead of Deguchi.

Deguchi versus Klimkait continues but Deguchi is the world number 1.

The ticket to go is one thing but the winning of an Olympic gold is quite another and should the world number one, Deguchi, reach the French capital in 6 months time, she will have the chasing pack to deal with and they are formidable. From 2016 Olympic champion Silva (BRA) to 2021 Olympic champion Gjakova (KOS), the line-up is strong and we haven’t even got to Funakubo, Cysique or exciting youngster Mimi Huh (KOR) yet.

-63 kg Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (CAN)

To keep the number one slot from the weight below not only in Pan America but in Canada specifically, Beauchemin-Pinard has worked incredibly hard. Following the retirement and the temporary absence of Tina and Clarisse respectively, pole position has been up for grabs and it was the Canadian who chose to work hard enough to earn it.

Beauchemin-Pinard on her way to gold in Tel Aviv, 2023.

Beauchemin-Pinard has an Olympic medal, 2 world medals and 4 grand slam golds and many other accolades; she deserves everything she wins. However, she also takes losses and doesn’t dominate the category as some have in the past. This means it’s not necessarily a place that will assure her Olympic glory in the months to come.

Laura Fazliu (KOS) has been weaving her way through the group, taking scalp after scalp, making a name for herself against the backdrop of expectation set by her teammates, a list of incredible women whom have shown her what’s possible. She’s 23, always with her eyes forward, never wavering from the tasks at hand but until the 2023 Masters she had no major titles despite collecting some notable smaller results. She won gold at the Masters though and entry into the inner circle of top athletes at -63 kg. Now her name can be mentioned when predicting Olympic medals for the summer ahead. Fazliu, Beauchemin-Pinard’s vice-front-runner, is going to be quite a force in Paris but neither of them is guaranteed anything. The Japanese contingent is strong, Szymanska (POL) and Leski (SLO) too. It’s a very open field.

Laura Fazliu (KOS) threw Takaichi (JPN) for gold at the 2023 Masters.

By the way, Clarisse is back and not mentioning that would be a mistake.

-70 kg Sanne Van Dijke (Ned)

Always strong and usually leaves events with results, the Dutch entry at -70 kg has an impressive record and one that points to a consistently high level for many years. She won her first grand slam medal in Germany in 2015 and she was only a teenager, just off the back of becoming junior European champion. Almost a decade has passed and she’s still reliable and powerful and collects medals with a refusal to ever give up on her goals.

Sanne Van Dijke (NED) on her way to gold at the Tokyo Grand Slam, 2023.

Van Dijke took the 2023 Masters and Tokyo titles, topping up the points tally enough to keep her at the top of any upcoming draw sheet. Points may not be enough though, when it comes to the main event. Double world champion Barbara Matic is still missing the elusive Olympic medal and is only at number 4 in the world, while ne-waza specialist Niizoe (JPN) is the number 3. Let’s not forget French world champion Gahie and Spanish entrant Tsunoda Roustant, both dangerous in anyone’s knockout table and both inside the world’s top ten. Van Dijke is not going to have an easy ride.

-78 kg Inbar Lanir (ISR)

If there was ever a world champion who surprised herself by winning, visibly and publicly, it’s Inbar Lanir. She knew she was in good shape but she didn’t expect to be the gold medallist in Doha and yet her coach never stopped believing and together they walked away from the tatami with the biggest prize of them all, well, the biggest ahead of Paris 2024.

Inbar Lanir: world champion!

Since Doha, Lanir has taken big strides and now believes she can win every single time. She dominates, she throws fast, she sticks to the plan. Shaking her resolve is going to be quite a challenge at the Games.

Alice Bellandi (ITA), world number two, is someone capable of disrupting Lanir. She lost concentration in Doha and had to settle for bronze when perhaps expected to win by the majority. She will be unwilling to make the same mistake twice and in Paris she will be prepared to hold her line. Few can match her physical presence but all are working on the tactics, the strategy, and below the one and two there are many reliable candidates, from the other world champions Aguiar (BRA), Tcheumeo or Malonga (FRA), Wagner (GER) and Hamada (JPN). Let’s also throw into the mix a David against Goliaths that is Lytvynenko (UKR).

+78 kg Raz Hershko

The world number one at overs set her sights on that residency some time ago, working incessantly to learn the category, to tick off wins against the biggest names one by one. Formerly one of the smallest in the weight, Hershko has re-asserted herself and now sits closer to the middle of the group but with movement and fitness and determination as the biggest weapons in her arsenal. She fears no-one and fights to win, also not to lose and we can always see her computing the points and the consequences of her choices. She comes at judo intelligently and in Paris this will be no different.

Raz fears no-one and sees everything coming.

The host’s darling is Dicko, a bronze medallist at the Tokyo Games but a world champion and a technician. Not always perfect but always capable, the Frenchwoman will have the home ground advantage and at a Games that can make all the difference. Japan won’t be wanting to spectate at that final either though and 23 year old Akira Sone has only dropped one single contest since the Paris Grand Slam of 2019. She will accept nothing less than gold in Paris this time.

How the ranking lists change in the coming months as the qualification period plays out is anyone’s guess but none of these athletes will give up their seeding easily. There is much to look forward to in the world of judo and in 2024 there is nowhere to hide ahead of the Olympic Games.

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