15:50 25 aoû

Ami Kondo, last but not least

Columnist Jane Bridge - From Russia with love… and judo - Chapter 2

Hello,
My name is Jane Bridge, former World Champion (New York, 1980, u48kg) and I'm a 7th dan judo. I've been writing a column in L"Esprit du Judo" a French judo magazine, for a few years in French and now I think it's time to address an audience in English.

August 25th.

A backward break fall - ushiro ukemi as it is better known in the judo world- it was one of the moves that intrigued me during the warm up here in Chelyabinsk on the main contest area! When I first noticed her I thought that one of the coaches kids was on the mat playing around before the competition started. I was wrong! Her name is Harriet Bonface and she's from Malawi and she fights in the 48kg category. Her fight only lasted 14 seconds, she was bowled over for an Uchi mata on the first grip of the fight. However she was here, Malawi was only registered with the IJF in 2013, so she's one of the first athletes to fight for her country in the world championships, and yet another country represented by females on the judo scene.

The poster for the worlds says it's the 30th world championships but actually that's just for the men.  The world championships for women started in 1980 so I make it the 20th for women. When I think I was privilaged enough to participate in the first world championships for women, it doesn't seem that long ago!

"It's surprising how things change quickly"

We had a good days judo today, and I could easily talk about the 21 year old reigning world champion 60kg player Naohisa Takato from Japan, whose confidence and amazing feeling enables him to be in all the right places at the right time so that we get the feeling that no situation is too difficult for him to handle, but I won't ! Or his Russian opponent in the semi finals, Beslan Mudranov, who displayed some amazing transition into jujitsu gatame throughout the day, but I won't!

It's the 48kg category that caught my heart today, perhaps for personal reasons (it was my weight category when I was a fighter).  A few fighters caught my eye, I  was impressed by the young French fighter who beat, for the second time in a row Sarah Menezes current Olympic champion from Brazil in the first round. 19 year old Amandine Buchard, silver medallist at the European championships this year in Montpellier scored a yuko early on in the fight and held on to the lead very comfortably to win the battle. It's surprising how things change quickly. Only two years ago it was the Brazilian who was the young, bright flame taking the place of the older more experienced players and she was just out of the juniors. Now it seems like she's the older player, tired and overtaken by  a young and powerful generation. High level judo can be a cruel adventure.

"-48kg : there is something exciting
happening in this category!" 

Another gripping fight was the young Alesya Kuznetsova from Russia against  the surprisingly tough and skillful Julia Figueroa from Spain. It's well known that Alesya's juji  gatames are lethal - she had executed one in her previous fight against the Algerian, Saidi. But the Spanish girls defense was as amazing and it wasn't happening on the ground for Kuznetsova. In fact Figueroa went in the lead with an Uchi mata for waza-ari, but the fighting spirit of the Russian girl, with the home crowd behind her, went on to get the waza-ari back and then to win the fight with one second to go countering an Uchi mata attack from her opponent.

In her next fight Kuznetsova, incidentally former silver medallist in the junior worlds in 2011 and junior European champion in 2010, was confronted with the awesome 19 year old Japanese opponent Ami Kondo, who had disposed of the reigning world champion, Urantsetseg Munkhbat from Mongolia in her first round by scoring a yuko with a lovely harai goshi.  The Japanese girl who was world cadet champion in 2011 was too much of a handful for Kuznetsova who despite giving some great resistance in ne waza was held down for ippon early in the fight. This young Russian women already well known for her strong ne waza was beaten, on the ground, by an opponent even younger than herself. There is something exciting happening in this category!

In the mean time Amandine had gone through her next couple of fights with ease. It was in the semi final that she came unstuck against Pareto of Argentina where the South American player scored a waza-ari which landed her in the final and put Buchard in the bronze medal fight.


Me and Amandine Buchard after she received her medal.

Kuznetsova went on to win her first fight in the repechage with a hansoku make against the European champion from Hungary Eva Csernoviczki which also put her into the bronze medal fight against, that's right, Amandine Buchard.

Now, I really like Amandine, she's a gutsy, clever fighter. Cool as a cucumber, and has a kata guruma that can roll most opponents over. I watched her training in INSEP this year and she just loves to fight.  I also like to root for home players. This of course was the case of Kuznetsova. So I was also kind of rooting for Alesya. Not only because she is on home ground but also because I'd like to see Russian women's judo put on the international judo map. I say that because apart from Donguzashvili,  Kuziutina and the late Ivaschenko, world medals from the Russian women - unlike their men- have been few and far between. Of course it wasn't to be. Buchard went on to win the bronze medal - and quite deservingly so- but a 5th place in the worlds at this stage of the Olympic cycle is a promising result and with the Russian women now having a similar training system to the Russian men's who knows in two years time she might just have made enough progress to get to the medal stages in Rio.

"Kondo, something that we aren't used
to seeing from the Japanese players"

Last but not least, yet another 48kg Japanese world champion. And what a performance! From the very start of the competition Ami Kondo went in there with a freshness and vitality that we can expect from a 19 year old but very rarely see! She didn't seem stressed by the event, went through her fights with relative ease showing her strong skills in ne waza and tachi waza. When she won the final she showed great pleasure and literally jumped into the arms of her coach, something that we aren't used to seeing from the Japanese players. On the medal podium her smile was that of a cheeky teenager, ready to tweet her result to the whole world, happy to be on top of it.

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 1) here 
"I can tell you the "Chelyabinskys" hearts are warm !"

 

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