Written by Jo Crowley on 30. Mar 2024
Photographs by Emanuele Di Feliciantonio, Tamara Kulumbegashvili
He may not be the number one seed in Antalya but the current Olympic champion in the category demands some attention. Takanori Nagase, who was also world champion in 2015, often makes a competition day look uncertain, truly coming into his own when under serious pressure. If he’s scored against, he’s a nightmare!

He won his first contest without too much fuss but in round 2 after a minute and a half, Gereltuya (MGL) threw Nagase with a seoi-otoshi for waza-ari, intensifying the Japanese champion’s drive for his own score. He pushed on, linking osoto-gari and uchi-mata until the equaliser came. He didn’t stop there, attacking constantly and just a minute after being thrown he took the win, sealing it with an o-guruma that looked almost belligerent, defying the possibility that he could lose. It was mastery, remediation for his mistake.

Nagase's (JPN) win against Albayrak (TUR).

Nagase’s next win was on penalties and then against Albayrak (TUR) he threw with the most beautiful ashi-guruma to reach the semi-final. Karapetyan was his unlikely adversary there, having driven through roadblocks set up by Bonferroni (SUI), Tatalashvili (UAE) and number one seed Schimidt (BRA). That quarter-final was particularly interesting as Karapetyan threw for waza-ari after only 25 seconds with sumi-gaeshi and then controlled the time, making no major mistakes for 3 and a half minutes.

Schimidt (BRA) vs Karapetyan (AIN).

On the bottom half of the draw Gauthier Drapeau (CAN) who had sat at the top of the draw last week in Tbilisi but failed to impress, as number 2 seed in Antalya, has completely turned things around. Gramatikov (BUL), Murtozoev (UZB) and Fernando (POR) all fell, rewriting the Canadian’s name among the most dangerous in the group. Last week was just a blip.

In Upper Austria Antonio Esposito won his first ever World Judo Tour gold after 26 grand slam and 11 grand prix appearances. At 29, we can say he’s been a patient man! In Antalya, his very next outing, he’s carried the momentum in his pocket and delivered a fantastic performance. Seeded 6th, having risen on the WRL thanks to Linz, he passed Spanish, Egyptian and Georgian opponents on the way to a quarter-final against Sterpu (MDA), which was won quite easily with a 3-0 collection of penalties, mostly due to Esposito’s non-stop activity.

Esposito (ITA) wins against Mohamed (EGY).

In the semi-finals Nagase continued his slog of a day, moving into the final to face the Canadian. Esposito wasn’t quite ready for his first grand slam final; he’s not far off but this time, Gauthier Drapeau was just too clever throughout.

The first bronze medal contest was fought by Schimidt (BRA) and Esposito (ITA). Schimidt threw for a first waza-ari with osoto-gari and with 20 seconds to go on the clock he then found a ten second hold down with tate-shiho-gatame. He was the more controlled of the two and the medal illustrated his good day of judo.

Schimidt (BRA) was on good form.

Fernando (POR) and Karapetyan (AIN) fought for the second bronze medal of the category and there were some truly nail-biting moments, most instigated by Fernando. He hooked on with osoto-gari attacks that couldn’t be completed and he searched for fast kata-guruma entries, all thwarted by Karapetyan but with little coming from him in terms of attack until the last minute, by which time he was already two penalties down.

Joao Fernando (POR).

The osoto finally worked for the Portuguese fighter with 11 seconds remaining but one way or another he looked superior throughout.

In the final which, not to spoil the ending, went to Nagase in golden score by shido, there were fascinating gripping exchanges and clever tactics from both fighters and all at a good pace. The Olympic champion has not had an easy day but to test himself on this stage is what’s needed at this point in the year. He needs to know how tough it will be in Paris and if he can take that win he will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest judoka of all time. He’s on track and ready to do the work that’s necessary.

Takanori Nagase (JPN).

Bronze Medal Fights (-81 kg)

Medals, cheques and flowers were presented by Mr Armen Bagdasarov, IJF Head Referee Director, and Ms Ilknur Kobas Tepe, junior world medallist