FUKUOKA – Youngster Hifumi Abe blazed to secure his second straight national invitational weight class championship on Saturday, posting three straight ippons in the men’s 66-kg category.
Abe defeated Kengo Takaichi in the final by big outer reap and all but secured his place in the world championships in Budapest this summer, having triumphed in the last three selection trials for the tournament both home and abroad.
“Abe looked really reliable, while I also felt he has many areas he can improve in,” said national team coach Kosei Inoue. “The important period starts now toward the 2020 Olympics.”
In the 60-kg class, 20-year-old Ryuju Nagayama defeated Rio Olympic bronze medalist Naohisa Takato by small outer reap, 98 seconds into the final at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
“I had that definite confidence I can beat him if we go head to head,” said Nagayama, who also beat Takato at the Grand Slam Tokyo final in December.
The berth at the worlds, to be decided by the All Nippon Judo Association on Sunday for six of seven categories for male and female, is still not yet secure for Nagayama who went out in the second round of February’s Grand Slam Paris, when Takato went all the way by ippon wins.
Soichi Hashimoto won the 73-kg class. The 25-year-old had won two recent international meets and seems set for a place at the worlds, but needed almost 10 minutes to win the final and wasn’t content with his performance in the absence of Rio gold medalist Shohei Ono.
“I have to win the worlds before anything. Then I can talk about Ono and the Tokyo Games,” he said.
Akira Sone, 16, won the women’s over-78-kg category after she overcame Rio bronze medalist Kanae Yamabe in the semifinals en route to her first title at the meet.
Sone edged Yamabe by waza-ari in a grueling 10-minute, 54-second bout and won another marathon in the final despite falling behind on a shido penalty.
“Being able to attack right through to the end is my strength. I was hell-bent not to get beaten mentally,” she said.
The other three categories also had first-time winners. Rio Olympian Mami Umeki won the 78-kg, Chizuru Arai the 70-kg and Megumi Tsugane the 63-kg.
The tournament is the first domestic meet to follow new International Judo Federation standards, which include the abolition of yuko points.