DUSSELDORF, GERMANY – Japan won three gold medals Friday on the opening day of the Dusseldorf Grand Slam, with siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe both topping the podium.
Nineteen-year-old sensation Uta claimed the women’s 52-kg division gold with victory over French rival Amandine Buchard, while 22-year-old Hifumi won his eighth Grand Slam title in a thrilling men’s 66-kg weight class final against Georgia’s Vazha Margvelashvili.
Three-time world champion Naohisa Takato was the country’s other gold medalist on the first day of the Grand Slam, which serves as an Olympic qualifier, securing a place at this summer’s Tokyo Games with victory in the men’s 60-kg division.
The younger Abe, who has virtually assured her place at the Olympics, avenged her loss to Buchard in their previous meeting at the Osaka Grand Slam in November.
The final came down to golden score, with the match awarded to Abe after Buchard was penalized for passivity.
“My goal is to become an Olympic champion. I want to be in even stronger shape by then,” Abe said.
Big brother Hifumi withstood a spirited effort from Margvelashvili, eventually throwing the Georgian to the mat for an ippon victory.
“I’m happy I was able to get the win safely, but I’m not satisfied in the least,” he said. “I want to win the next tournament and secure a national team place, then work toward my dream of victory at the Tokyo Olympics.
With his gold in the lightest men’s division, Takato extended his record number of Grand Slam titles to 11.
The 26-year-old Tochigi Prefecture native made an impressive run through the preliminary rounds before his scheduled final against Taiwan’s Yang Yung-wei, who withdrew due to injury.
Funa Tonaki suffered a surprise loss against France’s Shirine Boukli in the women’s 48-kg division final. Despite the defeat, Tonaki’s strong past performances should ensure her a place at the Olympics.