Written by Nicolas Messner on 03 Dec 2023
Photographs by Gabriela Sabau, Tamara Kulumbegashvili

After the second day of the Tokyo Grand Slam, the curtain fell on twelve months of competition on the World Judo Tour, twelve months which were of rare intensity and which kept us in suspense without stopping. This is the magic of very high level judo, a judo that we have enjoyed since the launch of the season in Portugal last January.

It is now time for athletes around the world to put down their bags and take stock of the situation with their coaches and technical staff. The coming weeks will be crucial for the future. In a few months, all eyes will be on the French capital for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Everyone is already thinking about that. However, nothing is certain yet because there is still time before the list of qualifiers is definitively known.

The only country to date which can sleep peacefully is France because as the host nation they already know that there will be a tricolour representative in each weight category in Paris 2024. France Judo has already designated a certain number of athletes (https://www.ijf.org/news/show/france-judo-make-first-stage-selections-for-their-home-olympics). Despite this guarantee, a few categories still remain to be awarded but for the already designated athletes, there is still a long way to go before the Olympic competition.

For the overwhelming majority of athletes who do not yet have their ticket to go to France next July, this 2023 season has been tough and long. There have been joys and disappointments. Above all there has been a lot of action and total commitment that already promises us a lot from the launch of the 2024 season at the end of January in Portugal.

Like this year, the Tokyo Grand Slam 2023 was of a very high level. We discovered a Japanese team which is actively preparing to regain its best level. Facing the Japanese judoka, they found very strong competition from all the delegations that came to Japan. Everyone is afraid of making mistakes and no-one is afraid of giving everything to get where they need to be. It’s a bit of a paradox in high-level sport. There is obviously always a certain fear when stepping on the tatami. In a few minutes, even a few seconds, everything can be played out but there is also a desire to perform which allows us to transcend any form of adversity. This is what we love and what we truly appreciate on the world circuit.

In the coming weeks we will have time to look back on this 2023 season that we enjoyed so much. Now it just remains for us to thank Japan for its incredible hospitality and to thank all the judoka who threw their last ounce of strength into this magnificent grand slam. What a grand slam that was and what a year that was!