PARIS -- Japanese women have dominated the lightweight divisions at the World Judo Championships, adding more fuel to the already tight competition over who will secure the one slot per nation (per weight category) for the 2012 London Olympics.
At these World Championships, Japanese women faced each other in the 48-kg and 52-kg finals, and in the 57-kg semifinals. The 48-kg final ended up being a replay of last year, with Haruna Asami beating Tomoko Fukumi.
Before the worlds, Asami held the top world ranking in the category with 1,860 points, while Fukumi followed in second, 30 points behind. Both Asami and Fukumi have a lead of more than 700 points over the third-ranked judoka in their class. Under International Judo Federation rules, judoka get 500 points for a gold medal at the World Championships and 300 points for a silver. That means the gap between Asami and Fukumi has widened.
Japan, however, will not automatically choose the judoka with the higher world ranking to represent the nation at the Olympics. Various factors, such as past performance and strength at international competitions, will be taken into account.
For women, judoka with a world ranking of No. 14 and above are eligible to represent Japan at the Olympics. Fukumi is almost guaranteed to rank 14th or higher, so she still has a chance to go to the Olympics. There are more Grand Slam events and other international competitions coming up that will count for points. In May, the final tournament to determine Japan's Olympians will be held in Fukuoka.
In addition to Asami and Fukumi in the 48-kg category, Misato Nakamura and Yuka Nishida in the 52-kg class are practically undefeated at international meets. Nakamura beat Nishida for the 52-kg gold in Paris this week.
Up until now, Japan has dispersed its national level judoka to compete at different major international competitions. That could change.
"From now on, I'd like (the top judoka) to compete in the same tournaments and have them fight each other," says Ryuji Sonoda, head coach of Japan's women's judo team. "I want to see who has a better chance of getting a gold medal at the London Olympics rather than how many tournaments the judoka can win."
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