Hifumi Abe booked his place in the Tokyo Olympics next summer with a yusei win in a grueling 24-minute bout against reigning world champion Joshiro Maruyama on Sunday in the men's 66-kg division playoff.
The unprecedented one-off showdown at the Kodokan Judo Institute pitted Maruyama against Abe, who won back-to-back world titles in 2017 and 2018.
Having come through as a star of his generation, the 23-year-old Abe joins his younger sister Uta, who will represent Japan in the women's 52-kg class at the Olympics.
"I'd kept her waiting. Now we can say we'll go for gold together," he said. "I want to make it a stage where I display my absolute best. This isn't a goal yet, I'll roll up my sleeves again and strive to win."
Maruyama and Abe were originally set for a winner-take-all bout at the All-Japan Weight Class Championships in April, but the tournament was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Abe's selection completes Japan's 14-member team for the Olympics, the other 13 having been selected in the framework created for the games that were originally going to open this past July 24.
Abe, who had his left middle finger treated twice for bleeding, pulled off the only meaningful attack some 20 minutes into extra time in their nerve-wracking bout. He used his right foot to launch a big inner reap and used his body to push and force Maruyama's back toward the mat.
Maruyama wriggled away to avoid contact with the mat, but the point was awarded to Abe, who burst into tears after booking his first Olympic berth.
"It was a really long battle. I knew it was going to be a battle of emotions and was determined never to back off," said Abe, whose aggressive, power-based style eventually reaped a reward. "I could show my brand of judo until the last second. The result at the end arrived as I kept getting on the front foot."
"It was a really long battle but looking back, there isn't a single moment I can forget."
Maruyama had his back to the wall after conceding two shido penalties — the third meaning defeat — soon after the start of extra time.
Maruyama grew into the tie, however, forcing two penalties out of Abe to set up a tense ending but fell short after failing to nail either of his favorite inner-high or circle throws.
"Honestly speaking, and I know full well that this cannot happen, but I'd loved to have seen it at the Olympics," Japan men's head coach and former Olympic gold medalist Kosei Inoue said. "Abe will fight carrying Maruyama's spirit at the Olympics. It was just a fantastic battle between the two."
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