Lukas Krpalek hopes to get back into Olympic form at U100kg
After winning the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics at U100kg, Lukas Krpalek switched to the +100kg division and competed at his new weight in the 2017 Dusseldorf Grand Prix. He failed to medal there, but in the Antalya Grand Prix, he managed to get gold, defeating the very large Iurri Kravkovetskii (KGZ). It showed that he had what it took to defeat much bigger and heavier opponents.
Krpalek then got a bronze in the Warsaw European Championships. He got a second Grand Prix win in Hohhot and ended the year with a silver medal at the Tokyo Grand Slam. It could be said that 2017 was a good debut year for Krpalek at +100kg.
Krpalek began 2018 with a silver medal in the 2018 Paris Grand Slam, and then a bronze in the Prague World Cup. His first gold medal of the year was at the European Championships in Tel Aviv, where he beat the strong Russian Tamerlan Bashaev in the final. He didn’t do so well in the Baku World Championships though, losing to the Mongolian Duurenbayar Ulzibayar in the bronze medal match. He rebounded in the Cancun Grand Prix, winning the final against Cuban’s Andy Granda, another relatively smaller but athletic player like him (who would in 2022 become World Champion). He followed that up with silvers in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and Osaka Grand Slam, two very good results. But he ended the year badly, losing in the preliminary rounds of the Guangzhou World Masters to Russia’s Bashaev.
The following year, 2019, was another season of mixed results. He began with a pair of bronzes at the Antalya and Hohhot Grand Prixs, then failed to medal at the Minsk European Games. Yet another bronze at the Montreal Grand Prix seemed to indicate it would not be a good year for him. But he was able to perform his best when it was most important, winning the gold medal at the 2019 Tokyo World Championships. He ended the year with a bronze in the Brasilia Grand Slam and a silver at the Qingdao World Masters.
The Covid pandemic interrupted the 2020 season and Krpalek competed only once, at the Prague Europeans. There, he lost in the quarterfinal to Bashaev and in the bronze medal match against Guram Tushishvili of Georgia. Both these men are considered his main rivals in this category. France’s Teddy Riner would be considered a key rival too but Riner barely competed during this Olympic cycle.
The IJF World Circuit resumed in 2021 but Krpalek began the year poorly, losing in his first match at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam. He took part in the smaller Prague World Cup and won gold in that one. But at the Antalya Grand Slam, he once again lost to his rival, Bashaev of Russia, in the semifinal. He managed to salvage a bronze though. It was also bronze for him at the Lisbon Europeans, the last event before the Olympics. Krpalek was once again able to rise to the occasion and win gold at the Tokyo Games, defeating home favorite Hisayoshi Harasawa in the semifinal and Tushishvili in the final. After that great result, Krpalek took the rest of the year off.
Krpalek returned to competition in 2022 but again, had very mixed results. He failed to medal at the Zagreb Grand Prix. He did terribly at the Tashkent World Championships, losing in the preliminary rounds. But later that month, he managed to win gold at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, defeating rising star Jur Spijkers (NED) in the final. He ended the year poorly, though, failing to medal at the Tokyo Grand Slam.
Overall, you could say 2022 was not a good year for Krpalek although he did have that one Grand Slam gold from Abu Dhabi. In the other events he competed in though, he failed to produce a medal of any color. Perhaps that could have been a key factor in his decision to move back down to U100kg.
After having spent more than five years competing against heavy opponents, Krpalek will probably find it relatively easy to handle the U100kg players although he would also find them to be much nimbler than what he’s been used to recently. Will he be able to successfully make the shift to a lower weight class?
Not many have managed to do it though Japan’s Natsumi Tsunoda has done it brilliantly, becoming double World Champion at the lower weight class of U48kg. Italy’s Fabio Basile, who also moved up a weight class after winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has decided to move back down as well. It will be interesting to see how well these two do in their new, lower weight classes in this year’s competition season. World bronze medallist (2021) Anri Egutidze is back again at this favourite U81kg weight class coming from U90kg.