Olympic bronze medalist Ryunosuke Haga won the national judo championship for the first time on Saturday, beating Hyoga Ota by ippon in the final of the unlimited weight competition.
The prestigious national title was a long time coming for the 29-year-old Haga, who finished third in the men's 100-kilogram category at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He ended the final against his 23-year-old opponent with his trademark uchimata inner-thigh throw.
"I missed my shot at the (Tokyo) Olympic team, so I no longer have that motivation, but I felt a strong desire to tell everyone, 'I'm still here,'" Haga said.
Ota, Haga's corporate club teammate, finished third last year, but was felled two minutes into extra time. Haga won all six of his bouts by ippon.
It was the second straight year for a judoka who competes in the 100-kg class to win the national crown. Last year's champion, Tokyo Olympic team member Aaron Wolf, did not compete after having knee surgery last December.
The tournament, originally scheduled for Chiba Port Arena on April 29, was postponed for eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic and held behind closed doors at Tokyo's Kodokan Judo Institute, the All Japan Judo Federation's headquarters.
Given the competition format, one is always curious to know if lighter weights can interfere in the hierarchy of heavyweights. This was the case several times and to date the lightest men to have won the Zen Nihon were 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games gold medalist (-80kg), Isao OKANO (1967, 1969) and the 1972 Munich Olympic Games gold medalist (-80kg), Isao Sekine SHINOBU (1972). For the women, the lighest winner was in 1986, Kaori HACHINOHE (-61kg).
After long months of inactivity for the best athletes in the country, we might fear that the level would be a notch below what we are used to and yet it did not happen that way and the competition reached a very good overall level.
The All Japan Championship for men, ‘Zen Nihon,’ was first held in 1948 when the All Japan Women's Judo Championship ‘Kougouhai’ took place for the first time in 1986.
Last but not least in our statistical highlights is Yasuyuki MUNETA, who participated 13 times in the event between 1999 and 2013. So far it is the curent president of the AJJF and of the Japanese NOC, the legendary Yasuhiro YAMASHITA, who won the most titles, with 9 Consecutive gold medals between 1977 and 1985.
Last but not least in our statistical highlights is Yasuyuki MUNETA, who participated 13 times in the event between 1999 and 2013.