Czech giant Lukas Krpalek beat Hisayoshi Harasawa to capture the world heavyweight title on Saturday and fire a warning for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The hulking 28-year-old won half-heavyweight gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and looked ominously strong after stepping up to the over-100-kg weight class at the World Judo Championships.
Entering with a roar at Nippon Budokan, venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Games, Krpalek was awarded victory after Harasawa picked up his third penalty deep into the golden score.
Harasawa, the 2016 Rio Olympic silver medalist, had stunned Georgian giant Guram Tushishvili in the semifinals, robbing him of his world title.
In the absence of France’s Olympic champion Teddy Riner, the 27-year-old ran out of steam in the final, although still secured an upgrade on the bronze medal he won at last year’s world championships in Baku.
Earlier, teenager Akira Sone bagged gold in her world championship debut, upsetting Cuba’s former Olympic champion Idalys Ortiz in the women’s heavyweight final.
The 19-year-old Asian Games gold medalist quickly forced Ortiz onto the back foot, sustained pressure bringing a third penalty against the over-78-kg division’s top-ranked fighter and giving Sone victory.
“All I was thinking about today was winning that gold medal,” said a sweat-drenched Sone after capturing Japan’s fourth gold of the week.
“I was determined not to show any weakness or give her any opening because she’s so strong. I didn’t care how I won, I just wanted it so badly.
“I tried to attack and set the tempo,” added the Fukuoka native. “The goal now is to do the same at the Tokyo Olympics and make sure I win gold there too.”
Defending world champion Sarah Asahina had to settle for bronze.
Japan tops the medals table after Joshiro Maruyama, Uta Abe and Shohei Ono claimed golds earlier in the week. The hosts have also picked up six silver and five bronze medals.
France has won three gold medals but no silvers and just two bronze.
Japan also dominated the 2018 world championships in Baku, capturing eight of the 15 gold medals available.
But the host nation could face more resistance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the evidence of the past week, the appetizer to next summer’s main event.