YOKOHAMA – Akari Ogata let her feet do the talking as she pulled off an upset with a victory over Megumi Tachimoto in the final to claim her first title at the All Japan Women’s National Championship on Sunday.
In the first major domestic tournament since an abuse scandal involving coaches for the women’s national team came to light at the start of the year, Ogata rallied to beat her rival with a major inside reaping leg trip that narrowly sent Tachimoto to the mat at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium.
“It’s sinking in that I really won. Everyone’s congratulating me and even gave me a celebratory toss in the air,” said the 22-year-old Ogata. “This is the meet that decides the best in Japan. I really wanted the Empress Cup. I’ve fought her several times before, so I know how strong she is. I really showed that I didn’t want to lose today.”
Perhaps an even bigger win, however, came for Ogata against defending champion Kanae Yamabe in the semifinals where she used the same technique to score an ippon victory.
But she said she saw victory in sight when she disposed of rival Tomoe Ueno in the fourth round. “I’d never beaten Ueno before, so I thought I had a shot if I could. It gave me confidence when I beat her. My dream is to win the title at the world championships, but my next focus is to win the national invitational meet in May.”
Tachimoto took the lead after Ogata received a point reduction for passivity, but her opponent found a way in to score with more than three minutes remaining on the clock and held off the bigger woman until the end.
Yamabe, the favorite to meet Tachimoto in the final, was sent sprawling onto her back with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in her semifinal match and finished in a tie for third.
“I’m upset with myself that I wasn’t able to put what I had worked on in practice into effect. I won here last year so I really wanted to win again no matter what. It means that I really haven’t developed much. I couldn’t be satisfied with the way I fought,” Yamabe said.
“I was getting flustered and rushing to get my hand positions in place. I had to be in better position and not use techniques I had no business trying,” said Tachimoto.
The open weight category meet doubles as a qualifier in the women’s over 78-kg class for this summer’s world judo championships in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 26.
But it was the first time in 14 years that someone outside the heaviest weight category won the meet, the previous victory coming when Noriko Anno achieved the feat in 1999.
Aside from the abuse scandal, the All Japan Judo Federation has come under fire for allegedly misusing funds from the Japan Sport Council, which assists the nation’s top athletes and coaches with the billions of yen generated from toto, the J. League soccer lottery.
Several companies, such as construction maker Token Corp., have refused to renew their sponsorship deals with AJJF, leaving the walls at the arena barren of advertising banners.
“People have been saying bad things about judo, but I hope the people watching today could go away thinking that women’s judo is great,” said Ogata.