Tashkent 2022: Will Japan get the heavyweight gold?

If Teddy Riner were taking part in Tashkent, he would undoubtedly still be the favorite, especially since the Russians are not taking part (he was beaten by Tamerlan Bashaev in the Olympics).

Both Guram Tushishvili (GEO) and Lukas Krpalek (CZE) would have been interesting opponents for Riner but neither has ever beaten him before. Also, the Japanese player who beat him in the 2020 Paris Grand Slam, Kokoro Kageura, was not the one selected for Tashkent. Riner would have been the favorite.

However, Riner is not competing. He withdrew due to injury. That means Tushishvili and Krpalek are among the favorites. But there’s also a huge Japanese heavyweight they have to contend with, Tatsuru Saito, the son of the legendary double Olympic Champion Hitoshi Saito.

The younger Saito is only 20 years old and doesn’t have that much international experience. JudoInside lists him as having fought only 11 international matches and most of them were as a junior. But he does have one IJF Grand Slam gold where he beat Temur Rakhimov (TJK), currently the World No. 1, in the final.

Saito may not have the experience nor the athleticism of Tushishvili and Krpalek but he makes up for that in size. He stands at 193cm and weighs 168kg. It will be hard for both of these guys to throw him (though Sanshiro Murao, a -90kg player, did manage to beat Saito recently in a domestic Japanese team event).

It’s worth noting that only Tushishvili will be seeded as both Krpalek and Saito are too far down the rankings to be seeded. That means they could meet Tushishvili, or each other, in the first round (depending on the luck of the draw).