Previous previews can be seen here
- Mayra Aguiar, Brazil
- Akari Ogata, Japan
- Audrey Tcheumeo, France
- Kayla Harrison, USA
- Abigel Joo, Hungary
- Xiuli Yang, China
- Lkhamdegd Purevjargal, Mongolia
- Heide Wollert, Germany
- Marhinde Verkerk, Netherlands
- Anamari Velensek, Slovenia
In this weight class there are 4 women you need to know about. Harrison(World gold and bronze medal, 2 golds and a silver in the Pan-Ams ), Tcheumeo(2011 world champ, European gold and silver), Ogata(World silver and bronze, European silver) and Aguiar(World silver and bronze, 3 golds, 3 silvers and a bronze at the Pan-Ams). These are the top 4 women at 78kg, and are incredibly closely matched.
Kayla Harrison is probably America’s best chance of an Olympic medal this year. Like Ronda Rousey and Travis Stevens, she comes out of Jimmy Pedro’s club. Her 2010 World Championship gold in Tokyo made her one of 4 Americans to do so. Her coach Jimmy Pedro and AnnaMaria DeMars, Ronda's mother, are also on that list. If she does pick up the gold at the Olympics, I believe she becomes the most successful women ever in US Judo. In addition she has an incredibly compelling personal story
On a slight tangent, I’m kinda uncomfortable with how Harrison’s Olympic medal story is mainly being framed in terms of the trauma in her life. There is a lot you can talk about in terms of compelling narratives for her as an athlete that don’t require constantly banging the drum of her past. Not saying its not a story that needs telling, but it is kinda disturbing how high performing female athletes still are less likely to be be talked about in terms of the spectacular nature of their performances than stuff tangential to their actual ability.
Kayla Harrison profile:
Generally if they are at a competition the top 4 tend to line up on the podium in some order with maybe one upset. I see that happening again at the Olympics. As far as who I think will actually win gold, I'm torn between Aguiar and Tcheumeo. Tcheumeo won my fandom forever with her win over Ogata at the 2011 worlds and Aguiar has just been winning a lot. Thankfully all 4 are exciting to watch fight so it will be entertaining.
Outside of the top 4, the women I’d pick to provide a potential upset are Yang of China(Beijing champ, World bronze champ, 2x Asian bronze) and Purevjargal of Mongolia(2 golds, 3 bronzes at the Asian games) and Joo of Hungary(2x European champion)
The UK representative is Gemma Gibbons, a 25 year old with an u23 European bronze medal and a handful of decent European and World Cup medals. I feel like a broken record when it comes to the British squad, but again her experience level does not exactly inspire confidence.
- Maxim Rakov, Kazakhstan
- Henk Grol, Netherlands
- Takamasa Anai, Japan
- Tagir Khaibulaev, Russia
- Tuvshinbayar Naidan, Mongolia
- Ramziddin Sayydov, Uzbekistan
- Ariel Zeevi, Israel
- Hee-Tae Hwang, Korea
- Ramadan Darwish, Egypt
- Lukas Krpalek, Czech Republic
The current #1 at this weight, Rakov of Kazakhstan has a World gold and silver a gold, silver and 2 bronzes at the Europeans. He has a solid competitive record but he has lost to enough guys in the top 10 to make the gold a bit more wide open. This is one of those weight classes where you could make a convincing case for everyone in the top 10 and a few outside of it.
Outside of the top 10, I'd keep an eye on Elco Van Der Geest of the Netherlands(2 golds, a silver and a bronze at the Europeans), Thierry Fabre of France(World bronze medalist), Luciano Correra of Brazil(World gold and bronze, triple gold and triple bronze at the Pan-Ams) and Oreydis Despaigne of Cuba(double World bronze, 8 golds, 2 silvers, 3 bronzes at the Pan-Ams).
The most interesting story in this division, for me anyway, is that of Beijing Gold medalist Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia. He is most known for a morote-gari(double leg) on 2004 Olympic champ Keiji Suzuki that people (wrongly) point to as the reason for the change in rules concerning leg grabs.
Naidan is a converted Mongolian wrestler whose game prior to the rule changes consisted of leg attacks. It was generally assumed that people like him would be driven out of the sport by the changes. Instead, he came back in 2010 with a game completely changed to fit the new rules and went on a decent run of results, most recently a gold at the 2012 Tournoi de Paris. I wouldn't consider him a favourite to win, but I do think he could add another Olympic medal.
The American rep at this weight is Kyle Vashkulat(double Pan-Am bronze). At 22 and with his international record, I would hesitate to expect too much from him.
The British rep, James Austin, is older but with a similarly limited international contest record. Again, I have a hard time expecting too much of him.