Teenage Rio 2016 Paralympic medalist matures to beat Canadian flagbearer for judo gold

Algeria’s Cherine Abdellaoui: “It has been so difficult in terms of the pandemic in the country and it is a great achievement to get this medal”.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Gold Medal Contest - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria in action against Priscilla Gagne of Canada. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Gold Medal Contest - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria in action against Priscilla Gagne of Canada. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medalist Cherine Abdellaoui of Algeria defeated Canada’s opening ceremony flagbearer Priscilla Gagne to clinch women’s -52kg judo gold at the Nippon Budokan on Friday.

Abdellaoui, 22, rose to fame when she became the youngest Algerian athlete from any sport to win a medal at the Paralympic Games when she won bronze at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 18 years and 11 days.

The 2021 IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) Baku Grand Prix winner defeated former world bronze medalist Gagne in the final by ippon (the maximum score).

The Algerian opened the scoring with a perfectly timed ko-uchi-gari (small inner reap) as she showcased her ashi-waza (foot techniques) to lethal affect for a waza-ari score, the second highest score in the sport.

Abdellaoui launched her opponent with a yoko-tomoe-nage (side circle throw) for a second and gold medal-winning waza-ari score.

Abdellaoui showcased her ashi-waza (foot techniques) to lethal affect as she caught her rival with a perfectly timed ko-uchi-gari (small inner reap) for a second and match-winning waza-ari score.

Algeria are no strangers to success on the Paralympic tatami as judo is one of only two sports in which they have tasted gold alongside athletics.

Their inspirational youngster followed in the footsteps of Messaoud Nine struck men’s -90kg gold at Athens 2004 and Mouloud Noura won men’s -60kg gold at Beijing 2008.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Gold Medal Contest - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria reacts after winning against Priscilla Gagne of Canada. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Gold Medal Contest - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria reacts after winning against Priscilla Gagne of Canada. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Algeria’s first Paralympic judo gold medalist said: “I worked a lot for five years. It took a lot of work, there was a lot of difficulty before I could achieve this.

“It has been so difficult in terms of the pandemic in the country and it is a great achievement to get this medal in Tokyo today.”

Abdellaoui talked about the changes she needed to make since bursting onto the scene at Rio 2016.

“Now I came with more maturity and in two days it will be my birthday, so it’s a great early birthday present. I became a lot more mature over these years, I have evolved a lot.”

Abdellaoui, who didn’t concede a single score at Tokyo 2020, started her day with a comfortable win over Ukraine’s Nataliya Nikolaychyk. A ura-nage (back throw) put the Algerian ahead and a powerful yoko-shiho-gatame (side four quarter hold) pin wrapped up victory in the quarter-finals having had a bye in the elimination round of 16.

In the semi-finals the -52kg fighter denied Japanese hope and 2021 IBSA Baku Grand Prix bronze medalist Fujiwara Yui a place in the final with a picturesque sweeping hip throw for ippon.

Abdellaoui was the undoubted showstealer on the opening day of Paralympic judo as she won all three of her contests by ippon to pitch a perfect record in Tokyo.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Semifinals B - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria in action against Yui Fujiwara of Japan. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Judo - Women -52 kg Semifinals B - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2021. Abderrahmane Chetouane of Algeria in action against Yui Fujiwara of Japan. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Not only did she maintain a watertight defense but all five of her scores came from different techniques as she floored the Nippon Budokan crowd as well as her opponents to earn Algeria’s first medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Silver medalist Gagne said: “I didn’t feel the pressure (as the flagbearer), I know that’s probably odd, but I felt support. The support was stronger than the pressure.

“It’s really great (to medal). We’ve all had a really hard year and a half and it’s really special not only be able to even come here.

“That alone is gift to be here and to win a medal is just beautiful. I’m very grateful.”

The judo competition continues on Saturday with the penultimate day of the event which features the women’s -57kg and -63kg categories alongside the men’s -73kg and -81kg divisions.