Japan beat France in a tense mixed team event final to capture its third consecutive title on the last day of the IJF 2019 World Judo Championships.
Among the six athletes Japan sent to the mat in the closing event at the Nippon Budokan on Sunday (1 September) was its ace and the newly crowned men's -73 kg champion Shohei Ono, who dominated Guillaume Chaine to give his team a 2-1 lead.
France had pulled level at one after Sarah Leonie Cysique stunned Tsukasa Yoshida by ippon. Kokoro Kageura won the opening bout also by ippon over Cyrillic Maret.
Japan moved within a win of the title when Chizuru Arai defeated Marie-Eve Gahie, the -70 kg queen. But Axel Clerget produced a resilient osae-komi victory over Sanshiro Murao to force a sixth fight.
But Shori Hamada sealed Japan's championship by pinning women's -63 kg Madeleine Malonga.
Rock star Ono
Ono, who competed in the team event for his first time, cemented his place as arguably the world's best judoka by throwing Chaine at will.
He drew the largest cheers of the evening - among them from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who personally sought out Ono during the medals ceremony to congratulate him.
"During the ceremony, he came over to say a few words so it was an honour," Ono told reporters. "He just said, ‘Ah, I finally found you. Congratulations, you were really strong’.
"The best thing about the team event is you get to share the joy with everyone else". - Japanese men's -73 kg champion Shohei Ono.
"I didn’t really care how I did it because a win is a win. I think I got the job done and I’m happy about that. I wasn’t 100 per-cent but that probably goes for every athlete.
"I won my individual event so mentally, it made things easier for me to prepare for this. I was hoping to put on a performance that could spur the team".
Not so Breakfast at Tiffany's
Women's -78 kg silver medalist Hamada only found out she would be competing on the day when she received a call from from coach Katsuyuki Mabuchi during what was supposed to be a leisurely breakfast.
"I got a phone call this morning and the coach said, ‘I need to tell you something’," Hamada said. "I wasn’t expecting it at all but managed to prepare well. Yesterday I went to bed at 1:30 and was having a nice, late breakfast when my phone rang.
"But I was still determined to win it for us".
Team event ready steady for 2020
The mixed team event will make its Olympic debut next year at Tokyo 2020. It was introduced at the world championships two years ago in Budapest.
Each team comprises of three men and three women. The men compete at the -73 kg, -90 kg and over 90 kg categories, the women in the -57 kg, -70 kg and +70 kg.
The first team to four wins advances.
The International Judo Federation's first refugee team to compete at the world championships was eliminated 4-0 by Russia at the first hurdle.
The refugees drew a huge ovation from the Budokan crowd as they were introduced ahead of the final.
Russia defeated Azerbaijan 4-1 in the first bronze-medal match before Brazil snatched the remaining place on the podium with a 4-2 victory over Mongolia.
All Japan Judo Federation and Japanese Olympic President Yasuhiro Yamashita raved about the upside of the mixed team event, saying it is one his delegation must win.
"A close friend of mine at the IJF joked to me, the mixed team event is set up so Japan can win since we are deep both in men and women," Yamashita. "But last year was very close, we were made to sweat so we definitely cannot let up. One match can quickly turn the tide."
"The team event will debut at the Olympics on the final day of the judo competition and this is one we want to win - no matter what". - JOC President and Japanese judo legend Yasuhiro Yamashita.
In the individual meet that ended a day earlier, Japan dwarfed the competition during the eight-day championships with four gold medals, six silver and five bronze. France was runner-up with three golds and a pair of silvers.