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Judoka Asami helps Japan record impressive gold-medal haul at Tokyo Grand Slam

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Two-time world champion Haruna Asami scored an ippon against Dayaris Mestre Alvarez of Cuba in the women’s 48-kg final on Friday, successfully defending her crown to lead a gold-medal sweep for the host nation on the opening day at the Tokyo Grand Slam.

In a resurgence of form in international competition, Japan won all five weight categories contested and dominated with three all-Japanese finals at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

Yuki Hashimoto captured the women’s 52-kg title in a victory over Nodoka Tanimoto, and 18-year-old Anzu Yamamoto beat Nozomi Hirai in the 57-kg final to claim her first title.

Naohisa Takato won the men’s 60 kg, beating Hironori Ishikawa with a cartwheel throw in the final, and 2010 world champion Jumpei Morishita completed the royal flush as he inflicted the same result on David Larose of France in the men’s 66-kg final.

Asami beat South Korean Jeong Bo Kyeong with an ippon in the semifinals, sending her opponent to the mat with a quick foot sweep before placing her in a side control submission for a pin — the same hold she would later use against Alvarez.

“I’ve had a lot of warm support. My next goal is to make the world championships,” said Asami, who was passed over for the London Olympics in favor of Tomoko Fukumi, who crashed out in the first round of the Games. “It’s important that I have victories over foreign competitors. I pride myself in being the ace for Japan,” she said.

The Kodokan Cup winner, who had a bye into the round of eight, reached the semis with a comfortable win on points over countrywoman Miri Toda, who placed fifth, in her first match of the day.

Hashimoto used three ippon victories to make the final before sending Tanimoto to the mat with a minor inner-leg trip for “waza-ari” in the final. She pinned Takumi Miyakawa with a side submission technique, setting up her clash with Tanimoto, who beat London silver medalist Yanet Bermoy Acosta of Cuba in extra time in the final four.

Yamamoto won a judges’ flag decision over Nae Udaka after neither woman could score a decisive point throughout their first-round match, but she only got better as the day went on. She highlighted the day with an ippon win over France’s Automne Pavia in the semis.

Olympic 57-kg champion Kaori Matsumoto is not competing here due to a nagging injury to her upper arm and will likely be sidelined until the All-Japan weight-class invitational next May.

“Asami has gone through some tough battles but she is progressing step by step,” said Japan women’s coach Ryuji Sonoda. “Anzu (Yamoto) was a little monotonous in her approach but I want to praise her for being able to win. Hashimoto has really grown.”

The 19-year-old Takato tossed down France’s Sofiane Milous with a sleeve-lift hip throw after just 53 seconds to reach the final against Ishikawa, who deployed a cross armlock hold on Brazil’s Felipe Kitadai for an ippon in the semis.

“I did what I thought I could today. When I go all out, I feel like I can’t be beat. Winning a tournament in Japan gives me a lot of confidence. In 2013, I hope to win all of my matches so that no one can surpass me,” Takato said.

Morishita scored an ippon against two-time world champion Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals, and had another full score to beat Mikhail Pulyaev of Russia with a submission hold in the semifinals. He beat Larose with an inner-leg trip in the final.

“My goal was to win the title here. Now I’ll shoot to compete in next year’s worlds. It will be important for me to keep winning going forward,” said Morishita.

Newly appointed Japan coach Kosei Inoue got off to a flying start in leading the men’s team on home soil after the country finished with no gold medals for the first time in Olympic history in London.

“The guys today weren’t at their best technically, but were really fired up. They made a good start. I thought Morishita wouldn’t get a second chance if he couldn’t make good on his luck today. The rules of judo I hear will be changing next year, so Takato will have to adapt (to a less aggressive style). He’ll have to make some drastic changes.”