(ATR) International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer says the universality of the sport has reached an all-time high, despite Japan blitzing the medal table.
Japan has won fourteen medals at the IJF World Championships in Baku, including six gold medals. Next in line, but considerably behind, are South Korea and France, each with three medals.
"Historically, the strength and depth of the Japanese team is without doubt," Vizer told Around the Rings. "However, after 6 days of competition, 21 countries have won a medal.
"This is the evidence that the gap between Japan and the rest of the world is diminishing. Of course, Japan is the leader in terms of titles and medals with new stars, but there is a very strong international contingent of talent coming through."
More than 750 judokas from 124 countries are competing at the National Gymnastics Arena in the Azerbaijani capital.
The world championships will conclude, for just the second time, with a mixed gender team event on Thursday. Three male and three female judokas across six weight classes will represent their respective countries. The new event is also on the Tokyo 2020 program.
"The mixed team event is very attractive for everybody – it is exciting and dynamic so it should help to grow the sport," Vizer said. "Team events have been held in different formats since the 1970’s, but we believe that now is the right time for it to be held at the Olympics, particularly as we will be returning to the home of judo in 2020."
Vizer, who has been the IJF president since 2007, also emphasized the sport’s commitment to gender equality.
"We have equal prize money and rules for men and women," he said. "It is a crucial aspect of our sport."
The Baku program also mirrors the Tokyo 2020 Games as they consist of an equal number of classes – seven men, seven women, and the mixed team event – and similar format as the upcoming Summer Olympics.
"The organization must be at the same level as the Olympic Games," Vizer said. "The mindset of the athletes is similar to competing in the Olympics."
Judo’s flagship event is being staged in Baku three years apart from the country hosting the inaugural European Games in 2015.
"Azerbaijan has organized a wonderful event," Vizer said. "The venue is spectacular with thousands of fans in attendance and, as for Judo contests, let me say that the level is very high. We have seen fantastic judo so far with close to 90% of contests won by scoring."
Vizer said that despite the absence of 10-time world champion Teddy Riner, new stars from non-traditional judo countries have emerged.
Seventeen-year-old Ukrainian Daria Bilodid defeated both Olympic champion Paulo Pareto from Argentina and Japanese world champion Funa Tonaki in the 48 kg division to become the sport’s youngest world champion.
Iranian Saied Mollaei won the 81 kg division to become his country’s first world judo champion since 2003.
Judokas from Korea, France and Spain have also won gold medals.
"After 6 days, 21 countries have won a medal," Vizer said. "It shows that besides the greatest champions there is a new generation of rising stars.
"The future of Judo is very promising and this is possible due to development programs across the globe that the International Judo Federation are running successfully."
Armenian Team Absent From Baku
Armenia’s national judo team opted out of the Azerbaijani hosted world championships, seemingly due to security concerns.
Vizer said the country’s withdrawal from the championships was unfounded.
"First of all, the Goverment of Azerbaijan has delivered an exceptional level of security for every athlete, IJF staff, volunteers and fans here in Baku," he said.
"Furthermore, on account of the agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a few years ago which protects athletes from both countries, the government of Azerbaijan has invited the Armenian judoka to participate in the World Championships, providing all the necessary support and requirements to participate.
"However, [the IJF] never received their registration."
Written by Brian Pinelli
For general comments or questions, click here .
25 Years at # 1: Your best source for news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com , for subscribers only.