Former world champion Takamasa Anai went out with a bang on Monday, defeating rising star Hisayoshi Harasawa in the final to win the All Japan Judo Championship a day after announcing his retirement.
The 28-year-old Anai captured the title for the first time in four years, and second overall in the open-weight annual tournament.
“I was pretty shocked that I won,” said Anai, who beat Harasawa on points after his larger opponent received two deductions for passivity.
“I figured he would try to grab my lapel with his left, and I could knock the wind out of him by yanking him down with my right. I didn’t have to throw him and I could control the match that way. It turned out to be an effective strategy.”
The 2010 world champion cruised through his first match after receiving a bye into the second round.
The Oita native, who had been considering retirement ever since crashing out in the second round in the 100-kg class at last summer’s London Olympics, scored an ippon against Tomoya Sasaki in his first bout when he deployed a counter foot-sweeping technique.
He dumped Tsuyoshi Kitami in the third round with a hip throw before finishing his opponent off with a side submission, and beat Masaru Momose — third here last year — on points to book a spot in the semis, where he demolished last year’s runnerup Ryuta Ishii with a body-drop throw after just 14 seconds.
“I thought of many things that might happen here. So honestly, I was surprised and thrilled at same time. I came to the conclusion (of retiring) after a lot of self-reflection. I won’t go back on my word. I’ve really enjoyed my judo career.”
The 20-year-old Harasawa, winner of the Tokyo city championships in March, dismantled his opponents to reach the final, coming from behind to defeat the smaller but fiery Kyohei Kakita with his trademark inner-thigh throw in the semis.
“Since I made it to the final I wanted to win but I didn’t have the skills to do it,” Harasawa sai. “Anai-san is a true veteran. I’d like to try to win next year. I’ll aim to be named for the next invitational and hopefully I can fight on the world stage soon.”
Defending champion Hirotaka Kato, who also had a bye, exited in the third round after Toshihiro Imai rallied with one second remaining to score a waza-ari on a counter pull-down technique.
The national championship doubles as a qualifier in the over-100 kg for the world championships in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 26, but the heaviest category will be decided after the May 11-12 national weight-class invitational in Fukuoka.
“It was probably because it was his last tournament but looking at the way Anai fought, you could tell a load had been taken off his shoulders,” said Japan men’s coach Kosei Inoue.
“The other athletes were overwhelmed by him. This is a new start for the heavyweights. We need to be galvanized by our critical situation now.”
The Japanese men, under Inoue’s new leadership, are looking to turn things around after finishing without a gold in London for the first time in Olympic history.