Takeshi Ojitani secured his second straight national championship on Saturday, winning the open-weight tournament for the third time in his career after defeating Aaron Wolf on points in the golden score extra period.
Ojitani, who won the title for the first time in 2014, downed Ryu Shichinohe for the second straight year in the semifinals with a vertical four-quarter hold before two late penalties from Wolf in the final handed the reigning champion the title at Nippon Budokan.
Ojitani, the first back-to-back winner of the meet since Keiji Suzuki achieved the feat in 2005, secured his place in the world championships in Budapest this summer.
“I always kept it in my mind to go on the attack when I start to tire,” Ojitani said. “I couldn’t show my kind of judo in the first two rounds, but was told by my mentor to be tenacious throughout and I stuck to that.”
Hisayoshi Harasawa, last summer’s Olympic silver medalist in the over-100-kg division, went out in the third round but will also be at the worlds given his records in international meets.
“He (Ojitani) isn’t eye-catching but deserves to win the tournament for the solid manner in which he keeps getting wins,” Japan coach Kosei Inoue said. “We’d like to fight together and make him become the best in the world. For Harasawa, what he feels (of the loss) and how he progresses from here is important.”
Ojitani missed out on a berth for the Rio Games after finishing seventh at the Grand Slam Tokyo in 2015. But he bounced back to win the 2016 championship in December, and claimed his first national invitational weight class championships in the over-100-kg class on April 2.
“I got into my rhythm from the quarterfinals. (Wolf) was strong, he had power and wasn’t running out of stamina,” said the 24-year-old. “Not making the Rio Olympics has given me the motivation to drive on.”
Beaten finalist Wolf will be at the worlds to fight in the 100-kg division, and looked back positively on the tournament that ended with a defeat to Ojitani, who is about 40 kg heavier.
“It was good to end the tournament in a decent position given it was one of those to prepare for the worlds,” said Wolf, whose father is from the United States. “It’s a plus that I gained the belief I can cut it against judokas from overseas too.”
Shohei Ono, the 73-kg gold medalist in Rio, headed into the meet weighing 78 kg but lost in his first match. His second-round match to a 95-kg opponent went into overtime and lasted a brutal 9-minutes, 54 seconds.
“I came with a mission as a gold medalist and competed in a tournament in which the word ‘defeat’ comes before anything else. I have no regrets,” said Ono, who had the crowd on their feet as he attempted his favorite inner-thigh and big outer reap throws.
“I’m not losing heart. I’ll build on this,” the 25-year-old said.