BAKU – Chizuru Arai defended her title at the World Judo Championships on Monday, becoming the first Japanese woman in 15 years to win back-to-back titles in the 70-kg division.
Arai defeated Tbilisi Grand Prix winner Marie Eve Gahie of France in 90 seconds in the final at National Gymnastics Arena, finishing off with a tate-shiho-gatame hold-down to give Japan its fifth gold medal of the eight-day competition.
Arai had a tough road to the title, claiming a yusei victory over three-time world champion and Rio Olympic silver medalist Yuri Alvear of Columbia in the quarterfinal and recording an ippon against last year’s runner-up Maria Perez of Puerto Rico in the semifinal.
Since winning her first crown at the Budapest worlds last year, the 24-year-old Arai had not claimed a title in four consecutive events.
“Not being able to win since I became world champion last year has been heartbreaking, so I’m really happy. The relief brought tears to my eyes,” said Arai.
“I have to pile up wins from here on and keep working hard until I get that one thing I want most at the Tokyo Olympics.”
Masae Ueno was the last Japanese woman to win two straight world titles, accomplishing the feat in 2001 and 2003 when the worlds were held every two years. It became an annual event in 2007, except for Olympic years.
World championship debutant Yoko Ono, who advanced to the women’s 70-kg bronze medal match with a repechage win, earned a bronze medal when her opponent Perez received three penalties for stepping off the tatami.
In the men’s 90-kg, Kenta Nagasawa posted an extra-time victory over Hungary’s Krisztian Toth in a bronze-medal match.