Written by Callum MacLennan on 08. Mar 2024
Photographs by Gabriela Sabau, Emanuele Di Feliciantonio
The field of athletes in the -48kg category at the Upper Austria Grand Prix 2024 were given a stark reminder of the strength-in-depth of the Japanese women’s team on day 1 of the competition. The country’s two World Tour newcomers, Mitsuki Kondo and Wakana Inagaki, just 19 and 21 years old respectively, swept the competition aside with a combination of typically accurate throws and clinical groundwork to make it through to face each other in the final.

Final, Mitsuki Kondo (JPN) vs Wakana Inagaki (JPN)

Kondo was last year’s winner of Japan’s prestigious Kodokan Cup and she started her day against the hosts’ Katarina Tanzer. The Austrian gave everything in front of her home crowd but Kondo capitalised on a wayward attack from her opponent to throw with a clean uchi-mata-sukashi in the second minute of the contest. She was made to work harder in round 2 by Brito (POR) but a low seoi-nage which scored waza-ari was enough to send the Japanese youngster into the quarter-final.

Kondo's (JPN) round 2 win.

There she met the in-form Amber Gersjes (NED) who produced two spectacular throws in her previous contests, including a rarely-seen o-guruma while under pressure in golden score against Cid Balcells (ESP). Kondo struggled to throw her taller opponent but managed to turn her over on the ground, free her entangled leg and pin the Dutchwoman for ippon using yoko-shiho-gatame. In the semi-final, she threw top seed Hyekyeong Lee (KOR) with harai-makikomi for waza-ari and later held her opponent down to guarantee herself a medal.

Gold medallist, Mitsuki Kondo (JPN)

Meanwhile, Inagaki impressed in equal measure with her patient but lethal ne-waza skills, applying a form of hara-zutsumi to turn and hold three opponents in a row. In round 1 she held former African champion Morand (MRI) with tate-shiho-gatame before pinning both Perrot (FRA) and then number two seed Mary Dee Vargas Ley (CHI) with yoko-shiho-gatame. She was drawn to face Asia Avanzato (ITA) in her semi-final and there we caught our first real glimpse of her tachi-waza abilities. The Japanese judoka launched her 20 year old opponent with an unusual uchi-mata from a cross grip to score ippon in just 90 seconds and set up a final showdown with her compatriot.

The two Japanese prodigies produced an open and absorbing final, in contrast to so many medal matches between athletes from the same nation who know each other’s judo so well and thus cancel each other out. A dramatic exchange in normal time saw Kondo threaten with a strong uchi-mata and Inagaki counter with juji-gatame but the latter couldn’t quite straighten the arm to submit her opponent.

Bronze medal contest, Amber Gersjes (NED) vs Asia Avanzato (ITA)

The contest was eventually decided in the 3rd minute of golden score, when Kondo tied off her opponent’s arm following a failed attack, turned her over and held her down to pick up a decisive waza-ari and a grand prix gold medal. The future for both players looks very bright indeed.

The first bronze medal contest saw Gersjes take on Avanzato. Although the Dutch fighter had the stronger attacks throughout, a couple of early gripping errors saw her go down by two penalties to the Italian’s one. She persevered however, maintaining a high attack rate to force Avanzato to pick up a second shido for passivity. Finally, in golden score, a head dive from the Italian handed Gersjes her second grand prix bronze medal. Could this be the start of a late push for Olympic qualification for the 26 year old?

Bronze medal contest, Mary Dee Vargas Ley (CHI) vs Hyekyeong Lee (KOR)

Lee (KOR) and Vargas Ley (CHI) battled for the second bronze medal. It was an exciting left-versus-left affair with several strong forward attacks from both players. It was Lee who broke the deadlock though, in the final minute of the contest, changing direction to the rear and catching Vargas Ley using o-uchi-gari to score waza-ari and hold on for the win. This is Lee’s second grand prix medal and cements her position as a direct qualifier for the Paris Olympic Games.

Medals, cheques and Linzer torte were presented by Mr Vlad Marinescu, IJF Director General, and Mr Albert Gmeiner, Vice President of the Austrian Judo Federation.

Final (-48 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (-48 kg)

Final Results (-48 kg)