INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Japan took two of the top podium spots of the five gold medals on offer in the judo competition, but still fell below expectations at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Monday.
On the third day of competition, perhaps the most intriguing final match-up came in a clash between an athlete representing the South Korean host against an opponent who resides north of the Demilitarized Zone — North Korea.
Japanese national champion Takeshi Ojitani won the gold in the men’s heaviest weight category at over 100 kg, Yuya Yoshida took the top podium spot at 90 kg, while Nami Inamori settled for the silver at over 78 kg.
Ojitani, making his Asian Games debut, beat Mongolia’s Duurenbayar Ulziibayar on points after scoring a yuko with a leg wheel technique in the final.
The 22-year-old, a two-time junior world champion, said he was satisfied with his matches up until the final.
“I had many good points in my earlier matches through the semifinals. I wasn’t satisfied with my final, but it was a good start moving forward,” said Ojitani, who scored ippon in his first two matches.
Yoshida disposed of Dilshod Choriev from Uzbekistan with a shoulder throw for yuko in extra time, beating his opponent after both men had received three shido for passivity.
“Without an overwhelming victory I have no chance of making the Olympics (in Rio in 2016),” said Yoshida, who won his first title at the national weight-class invitational this year. “Unfortunately, I keenly felt I haven’t reached that level. Winning the championship was the bare minimum. Now that I’ve cleared this hurdle I can move ahead.”
Inamori came up short when she lost for two defensive postures in her bout against Ma Sisi of China. “There are many areas I have to work on. I need to retrain myself,” said Inamori.
In the match most were waiting for, North Korean Sol Kyong faced off against Beijing Olympic bronze medalist Jeong Gyeong-mi, but it was the South Korean flag that spectators raised proudly in the stands after Sol’s defeat.
Jeong, whose nation is technically still at war with its northern neighbor after the 1950-1953 war ended in a truce, was the aggressor as she doggedly pressured Sol, who received two shido reductions for passivity.
Sol, the 2013 world champion at 78 kg, grasped in vain as the clock ran out — leaving her with her second silver after also finishing runner-up in the 70-kg class at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
“I studied a lot about Sol Kyong,” said Jeong, who defended her title from 2010 in the same class.
“I knew she was one of the toughest players, so I prepared a lot to face her. I saw that she cried after the match and I felt sorry for that,” Jeong said of Sol, who did not attend a press conference afterward.
“This was the Asian Games but it was being held here in my country with many people cheering for me. I did my best as the senior member of my team,” she added.
Beijing Olympic champion Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia beat Kazakhstan’s Maxim Rakov, the 2009 Rotterdam world champion, in the men’s 100-kg final.
Mami Umeki, at under 78 kg, lost her first match of the day against Sol but got through repechage before pinning Mongolian Munkhtuya Battulga with a four-corner submission to take home a bronze.
Yusuke Kumashiro, who was hoping to build a case in the light heavyweight category (100kg) in which Japan did not field any judoka at the world championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in August, lost on points to South Korea’s Cho Gu-ham, who took a bronze, in his opening match and did not advance.