Previous days can be seen here
We are now officially halfway through our previews, making these two weoght classes the true middle weight classes in Judo. On both the male and female side, they are heavily competitive and full of solid athletes.
Top 10 at the Olympics:
- Yoshie Ueno, Japan
- Gevrise Emane, France
- Urska Zolnir, Slovenia
- Xu Lili, China
- Elisabeth Willeboordse, Netherlands
- Alice Schlesinger, Israel
- Munkhzaya Tsedevsuren, Mongolia
- Da-Woon Joung, Korea
- Claudia Malzahn, Germany
- Yaritza Rojas, Cuba
I'll start by pointing out that Japan qualified 3 women in this division while France, Netherlands, China and Israel each qualified 2.
The top ranked woman at this weight is Japan's Yoshie Ueno(2009,2010 World gold, 2011 World silver, 5x Asian champion). Ueno is another athlete from a high level judo family. Her older sister Masae was the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medallist at 70kg as well as a 2 time world champ. Her younger sister Tomoe won the world u20 championships, has a gold and a silver at the Asian Championships and won the 2011 Tokyo Grand Slam also at 70kg. Ueno is probably one of the most consistently successful judoka on the world stage. She competes a lot and wins almost everything she enters. Unfortunately for her, her quest for gold takes her directly to Gevrise Emane of France.
Emane has two golds and a bronze at the world championships as well as 4 golds and a bronze at the Europeans. Up until 2009 she was France's queen at 70 kilos(Rousey's old division for the MMA fans) and was actually my pick to win gold at that weight in Beijing. Instead, she got knocked out early by(IMO) shoddy refereeing. Since moving down to 66kg she has been mauling pretty much everyone she runs across. At this point I'm leaning towards her to make up for her performance at the last Olympics and take the gold.
The Dutch selection for the weight came with a bit of controversy. The Dutch federation chose to go with #7 ranked Elisabeth Willeboordse(Beijing bronze, World silver and bronze, 2 European golds, 1 bronze) over #4 Anicka Van Emden(World bronze, European silver). Willeboordse has the better historic record but Van Emden has the better record over the selection period for this Olympics and hasn't lost to Willeboordse since 2010. Everyone I know figured Van Emden would get her shot this year but she didn't. I personally think she was the better choice overall but Willebordse could still do well this year.
Other women to watch out for, Zolnir of Slovenia, Tsedevsuren of Mongolia, Malzahn of Germany, Schlesinger of Israel, Rojas of Cuba and Silva of Brazil could all end up in the top 5.
The British Entry at this weight is Gemma Howell. She has Bronze medals at the European under 20 and under 23 championships and a bunch of good World cup and European cup results, Plus she comes into London with the momentum of having won her last 4 straight competitions and playing in front of the home crowd. It wouldn't surprise me if she overperforms, but I think she's another one who doesn't have the experience yet and won't be truly ready until Rio.
Top 10 at the Olympics
- Leandro Guilheiro, Brazil
- Jae-Bum Kim, Korea
- Elnur Mammadli, Azerbaijan
- Ole Bischof, Germany
- Takahiro Nakai, Japan
- Ivan Nifontov, Russia
- Alain Schmitt, France
- Travis Stevens, USA
- Sergiu Toma, Moldova
- Guillaume Elmont, Netherlands
I know I've said this before, but 81kg really is a heavily competitive weight class. Since its the one I personally compete in from time to time, I end up paying a bit more attention to it than I do to most other weight classes. To give you an idea of its depth, Japan qualified 4 men, France 3 and Brazil, Korea, Azerbaijan, Germany and Russia each qualified 2. Also, the top 4 men in this class all have at least one Olympic medal each.
The #1 ranked judoka at this weight is also one of my favourite active judoka, and yet still tied for my favourite Brazilian with Tiago Camillo. I'll talk about him in the next preview. To give you an idea of what makes him so interesting, he is under 30 and this is his third Olympic games, but his first at 81kg. He has two Olympic bronzes and 2 Pan-Am Golds at 73kg, but moved up to 81kg in 2009 and has since won a world silver and Bronze medal along with three Pan-Am golds and a gold at the World Military Games. He is among the most entertaining judoka at any weight. Strong, stylish and a big thrower. He's definitely one to watch.
As I mentioned though, 81 Kilos is a heavily competitive division. Jae-Bum Kim of Korea(Beijing silver medal, 2 golds and a bronze at the worlds, 6 Asian golds) is probably a better overall judoka, just with a slightly smaller competition record. Guilheiro has never beaten Kim, but I'm really hoping that changes in London.
Other names to keep an eye on, Elnur Mammadli of Azerbajan(Bejing gold medallist and world silver medallist at 73kg). Like Guilheiro, he is a recent mover across weight classes, starting his 81kg run in 2010. Next to him, we have Ole Bischof of Germany(Beijing gold medallist at 81kg, World Bronze medallist and European gold, silver and bronze medallist). He was a bit inconsistent since Bejing but started to come on strong in the last year and will always be a threat.
On a slightly lower tier down, we have Guillaume Elmont, the other Elmont brother(gold and bronze at the Worlds, Silver and 3 bronzes at the Europeans, 5th place in Bejing), Takahiro Nakai, Japan's new entrant, Ivan Nifontov of Russia(World and European gold) and Alain Schmitt of France. Like I said, the division is highly competitive and ripe for an upset.
The American entrant at this weight, Travis Stevens is going to his second Olympics. He has 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze at the Pan-Ams and is probably the USA's second best medal chance in London. He is a very strong, slick competitor both standing and on the ground and always has a chance of upsetting the big boys. I'm not sure I'd be measuring him up for a gold or silver medal, but a top 5 finish would not surprise me.
On an MMA related sidenote, if I happened to be running an American MMA organization or gym, Stevens is the kind of guy I'd be courting. At 26, he's still pretty young and he has the kind of competitive experience that comes with two Olympic tours and a shelf full of international medals. In addition to that, he trained out of the same club as Rick Hawn and Ronda Rousey, so he already knows two elite judoka in MMA. Now add in that he has a brown belt in BJJ, reportedly under John Danaher, a history of entering grappling comps and has gone on the record as having an interest in MMA. In summary, he is a relatively young world class grappler in a sport that doesn't pay a whole lot of money, he is at least interested *and* he has links to people from his sport who have made the switch to MMA. Seems like a good prospect to me.
The British entry at this weight is Euan Burton. 2x World bronze medalist and 3x European bronze medalist. This will be his second Olympics, where he will be attempting to top his 7th place at Bejing. In 2010 he was on a run that would have made him a shoo-in for at least an Olympic bronze. However his opponents seemed to figure out his physical, grinding style of judo. This year though, he came back to beat Nifontov at the 2012 World Masters. He's probably one of the best grinders you'll find in international Judo. Strong, well conditioned and tactically astute enough to make his opponents make mistakes he then punishes them for. He'll always be a spoiler.