Arai retires on top

Arai with her Olympic gold medal.

(Original article published in JudoCrazy Patreon)

Olympic and double World Champion at -70kg, Chizuru Arai (JPN), has announced her retirement from competition, saying she looks forward to the second phase of her life. At 27, she is retiring at a relatively young age, although not as young as her predecessor, Haruka Tachimoto, the winner of the -70kg division at Rio 2016, who retired at 26.

Some top champions have long, unbeaten streaks. Arai’s competition career was not smooth sailing though, and in between great victories were quite a few setbacks. She won her first world title at the 2017 Budapest World Championships by expertly strangling her opponent, Maria Perez of Puerto Rico.

Her final match in the following year’s World Championships was not as easy though. And in the lead up to it, she lost to her compatriot Yoko Ono in the 2017 Tokyo Grand Slam, as well as to Britons Sally Conway and the Gemma Howell in the 2018 Paris Grand Slam and 2018 Hohhot Grand Prix respectively.

At the 2018 Baku World Championship itself, she had a tough time with Eve Marie Gahie of France, and indeed it was the French player who scored first with a kosoto-gake counter for waza-ari. Arai looked to be in trouble, with Gahie clearly outgripping her, when she pulled off an uchimata that score waza-ari. She immediately followed that up with a tate-shiho-gatame hold-down for waza-ari-awasete-ippon.

Her path to Tokyo 2020, was again peppered with defeats from a variety of players. She wasn’t able to defend her World title in the 2019 Tokyo World Championships when she lost to Barbara Timo of Portugal in the preliminary rounds. That same year she lost in two other important competitions, to Kim Polling in the 2019 Osaka Grand Slam and to Sanne Van Dijke of the Netherlands in the 2019 Qingdao World Master.

Then in the 2021 Kazan Grand Slam, she lost to the up-and-coming Madina Taimazova of Russia. Arai would get her revenge however in the Tokyo Olympic Games when she defeated Taimazova in the semifinal.

That brought up against Michaela Polleres of Austria, whom she handily took down with a well-timed kosoto-gari. It only scored waza-ari but that was enough to win her the match as the Austrian could not even up the scores before time ran out. And with that, Arai was able to retire on top with an impressive record of two World titles and an Olympic gold medal as well.

(See Arai’s career highlights here).