Double Olympic champion Riner came into his home Grand Slam event with an incredible record of 152 consecutive victories stretching back to 2010, but was stunned by Japanese contender Kokoro Kaguera in their +100kg third round clash.
The AccorHotels Arena in Paris was the venue for the weekend’s action which saw 680 judoka – 405 male and 275 female – from 115 countries compete where once again Japanese judoka led the final medal table.
The big news of the weekend though came with Riner’s defeat which silenced the sell-out French crowd. The 30 year old judo heavyweight icon was returning to action for the first time since winning gold at the Brasilia Grand Slam in October and going in search of qualification points for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The 10-time world champion made a low-key start by beating Hungarian youngster Richard Sipocz on shidos in golden score before seeing off Stephan Hegyi by ippon in additional time. World number 10 Kageura had given Riner a big scare in their first meeting in Montreal last year where the Frenchman only prevailed after five minutes of golden score.
This time Kgeura was not going to be denied and secured the stunning victory by countering Riner with a uchi-mata-sukashi after 40 seconds of golden score; the French star typically graciously accepted his defeat as he bowed out of the competition with his winning-streak came to an abrupt halt at 154-0.
Unfortunately for Kageura he was beaten to the gold medal by The Netherlands’ Henk Grol in the Final. World number seven and double Olympic bronze medallist Grol claimed his first IJF gold medal since winning the 2018 Osaka Grand Slam by catching a shell-shocked Kageura with his trademark ashi-waza as a ko-uchi-gari. His score was upgraded from waza-ari to ippon upon a video review but it didn’t matter as victory ensured Grol boosted his chances of a Tokyo 2020 Olympic place especially after teammate and top seed Roy Meyer could only finish seventh.
In Sunday’s other men’s divisions, World silver medallist Matthias Casse of Belgium claimed gold in the -81kg category after a tactically astute showing against Sharofiddin Boltaboev of Uzbekistan. The Belgian judoka had enough to contain the Uzbek who was penalised for the third and final time after one minute of golden score to receive hansoku-make. Casse has now won IJF gold in consecutive events for the first time and will be one of the favourites in Tokyo this summer.
Former world champion Nikoloz Sherazadishvili of Spain won his first Paris Grand Slam title by beating former world bronze medallist Kenta Nagasawa of Japan in the -90kg division. The world number one sealed his fourth Grand Slam victory by launching his Japanese judoka opponent with a gigantic o-goshi a before being sent over for ippon.
World number six Peter Paltchik of Israel narrowly defeated Olympic silver medallist Varlam Liparteliani in a closely contested -100kg final. The Georgian star had claimed gold at the same event in 2013, 2015 and 2019 but came up just short for a fourth Paris major title as he was penalised for diving after being unsuccessful with an uchi-mata attack.
Sunday’s women’s finals saw Osaka Grand Slam winner Yoko Ono defeat Japanese compatriot Saki Niizoe with one of the throws of the day to capture her fifth Grand Slam title. Ono almost scored at will in the preliminaries with her lethal uchi-mata and carried that form to the final by catching Niizoe in golden score with a textbook ippon-seoi-nage.
Niizoe had caused a surprise in the first semi-final by defeating world champion Marie Eve Gahie, the Japanese judoka throwing for ippon with her trademark uchi-mata with 60 seconds left on the clock. In the second semi-final Ono accounted for world silver medallist Barbara Timo of Portugal with a yoko-shiho-gatame for 20 seconds and ippon.
There was not even the consolation of a bronze medal for Gahie as the home star suffered her second defeat in as many contests after Sweden’s Anna Bernholm locked on a juji-gatame to force her opponent to submit at the halfway point.
The first bronze medal was won by Great Britain’s Gemma Howell after Timowas penalised for a false attack in the fourth minute of golden score to result in a hansoku-make as it was her third offense.
There was an all-French affair in the women’s -78kg final which saw world champion Madeleine Malonga defeat World Judo Masters winner Fanny Estelle Posvite(FRA) in a disappointing encounter. Both judoka cancelled each other out and were reluctant to take any risks but world number one Malonga retained her Paris title by seeing off world number 13 Posvite, who moved up from -70kg to -78kg a year ago, on shidos to the frustration of the home crowd.
The French crowd were more appreciative to the efforts displayed in +78kg final as home judoka Romane Dicko dominated world number eight Maryna Slutskaya of Belarus to provide the hosts with women’s heavyweight gold. The 20-year-old star’s overpowered her 28 year old opponent from the start and brought the crowd to their feet with an enormous makikomi for ippon as one-time Grand Slam champion Slutskaya could not deal with the physical attributes of the young Frenchwoman who has now struck gold at both IJF events in 2020.
Saturday’s first day of action saw Japan claimed two out of the three men’s gold medals on offer. One of those came from Nagayama Ryuju who give his Tokyo 2020 hopes a big and timely boost by producing a stunning comeback in the final of the men’s -60kg against Russia’s Yago Abuladze.
The latter seemed to be heading for victory when he had Nagayama pinned down, only for his rival to escape after 14 seconds and then immediately fight back with a morote-seoi-nage for a waza-ari score before sealing a remarkable turnaround by throwing with an ura-nage to capture the gold medal.
The second Japanese gold medal was claimed in the -73kg division as Hashimoto Soichi defeated Kazakhstan’s Zhansay Smagulov for his third victory at the Paris event in four years. The Japanese number two countered a kata-guruma with te-waza for a waza-ari score with 40 seconds remaining to record back-to-back gold medals on the IJF World Judo Tour having won at the IJF World Masters in Qingdao in December.
The third gold medal of the men’s events came in the -66kg and was won by South Korea’s An Baul. The Olympic silver medallist defeated team-mate and World Championship silver medallist Kim Lim-hwan, who received a third shido in golden score.
In the women’s events, Clarisse Agbegnenou had her home crowd in full voice after defeating one of her main rivals for Tokyo 2020 gold, Nami Nabekura of Japan, to win the women’s -63kg gold. The 27-year-old four times world champion, defeated Nabekura by ippon from a ura-nage to claim her sixth title at this event. Nabekura entered the final minute of the final with two shidos to her name, so had to gamble by attacking Agbegnenou only for the French star to seize her opportunity and seal the victory.
Ukrainian teenager Daria Bilodid retained her -48kg Paris title with victory over Japan’s Koga Wakana. Having looked below-par in the earlier rounds, Bilodid rediscovered her form in the final and won with a waza-ari score from a makikomi, in doing so maintaining her remarkable record of having faced Japanese opponents nine times and beaten them on every occasion.
The women’s -52kg event was missing Kosovo’s Olympic champion Majlinda Kelmendi through injury. She was replaced by Distria Krasniqi who had been persuaded to step up from the under-48kg division where she is ranked second and that decision paid off as she defeated Italy’s Odette Giuffrida to win gold. The 24-year-old Krasniqi produced a hiza-guruma to earn a waza-ari score before Giuffrida received her third and final shido for pushing out her rival.
Canada’s Christa Deguchi won the -57kg category Paris gold for the third consecutive year beating Mongolia’s Dorjsuren Sumiya. The former Japanese competitor caught Dorjsuren with a tomoe-nage for a waza-ari score and comfortably saw out her advantage.
That gold for Deguchi gave Canada joint fourth place on the final medal ranking table which was dominated by Japan once again with three golds, five silver and five bronze medals. France came in second with three golds, one silver and two bronze. South Korea took third with one gold and one silver edging Ukraine and Canada with one gold and one bronze each.
The next IJF event is the Düsseldorf Grand Slam in Germany over the weekend Friday 21, Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 February.