The world’s top two judoka in the women’s 48-kilogram category will duel for the last time to represent Japan in that weight category at the London Olympics. And the battle could be fiercer than the Olympics itself.
Tomoko Fukumi and Haruna Asami--who are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, respectively--will soon be competing against each other in the final Olympic selection meet that gets under way May 12.
Fukumi has the higher world ranking, but Asami has a slight lead in the domestic selection process. She won consecutive gold medals at the last two World Championships, beating Fukumi in the final match both years.
“I’m starting to have pride” (in being a leader in the 48-kg weight category)," says the 24-year-old Asami.
But Asami will have to dig deep after suffering a left knee injury earlier this year.
Despite the pain, she competed at the World Masters Tournament in January, but lost out to Fukumi and spent the next two weeks in rehab.
“It was the first time I couldn’t practice judo for such a long period of time,” Asami says looking back.
The key for Asami at the All Japan Judo Championships will be whether she can regain and show off her competitive edge. It will be her first competition after her four-month layoff.
Meanwhile, Fukumi won the Masters Tournament as well as the Paris Grand Slam that Asami had to sit out. She defeated overseas rivals and made an impression on the Japanese selection committee officials.
Despite her winning ways these past few months, the 26-year-old Fukumi realizes she is still the underdog.
“I feel like I can finally take on the challenge," Fukumi says about her expected match against Asami. "I’ll be competing with the idea that I am my own biggest rival.”
Selecting the judoka to represent Japan in the 48-kg category will be no easy task.
“It’s like a fault-finding mission in this weight category,” says Ryuji Sonoda, head coach of the Japanese national women’s judo team.
Until the Beijing Olympics, the 48-kg category had long been dominated by Ryoko Tani, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is now an Upper House member.
The global standard for an Olympic ticket is to be ranked 22nd or higher for men and 14th or higher for women. In Japan, though, the Olympic selection is based on major domestic and international competitions.
The All Japan Judo Championships will be the final selection meet. After the tournament ends on May 13, a meeting will be held to select a total of 14 judoka--one male and one female for each of the seven weight categories -- based on the athletes’ tournament results as well as their strengths on the global stage.
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