This is Part 1 of my preview for the 2016 Olympic Judo contests. Instead of previewing every division, I have chosen the three weight classes where USA Judo athletes are highly ranked and expected to compete in the medal rounds: Women’s -57kg (Marti Malloy), Women’s -78kg (Kayla Harrison), and Men’s -81kg (Travis Stevens).
Women’s 57kg gets underway on Monday, and is going to be one of the most exciting brackets to watch this week, due to the high level of parity between the competitors. While I do not believe the gold medal winner will be anywhere below the #10 World rank, anybody in that Top 10 could conceivably win.
Representing the U.S. will be 2012 Bronze Medalist Marti Malloy, who is World #5 ranked. For your convenience, I have listed below the Top 8 World ranked (not Olympic ranked, there is a difference) women at -57kg, with their W/L and Win% stats versus Top 15 World ranked opponents since 2013 in parentheses.
Top 8 World Ranked, W/L and W% vs. Top 15 Ranked Opponents Since 2013
- Sumiya Dorjsuren, MGL (25-12, .676)
- Jan-Di Kim, KOR (13-11, .542)
Tsukasa Yoshida, JPN (11-5, .688)* Helene Receveaux, FRA (18-9, .667)**
- Marti Malloy, USA (17-15, .531)
- Kaori Matsumoto, JPN (16-4, .800)
- Automne Pavia, FRA (15-13, .536)
- Telma Monteiro, POR (8-9, .471)
*Despite her high ranking, Tsukasa Yoshida did not make the Japanese Olympic team. Countries can only send one representative per weight class, and Kaori Matsumoto was the obvious choice as she is the defending 2012 Gold medalist in this weight class, and had more success against higher level competition than Yoshida did while not competing enough to earn as many international points.
**Helene Receveaux did not make the French Olympic team this year either, for the same reason. Team France opted to go with 2008 Bronze Medalist Automne Pavia. Receveaux is younger, and though she was ranked higher, went 1-2 vs. Pavia in international competition since 2013, so France elected to give Pavia one more shot at Gold before she retires.
Malloy has an excellent chance of winning Gold this year. Since winning Bronze in 2012, she has continued to succeed at the highest levels, winning Silver at the 2013 World Championships in Rio and Gold at this year’s Grand Prix Havana in a very tough bracket that included six Top 20 World ranked Judoka, three of whom Malloy had to beat on her way to the top: Nora Gjakova (#18), Rafaela Silva (#11), and Hedvig Karakas (#9).
She also scored the biggest individual win of her career, beating defending Olympic Gold medalist Kaori Matusomoto in a mere 24 seconds via armbar at the 2014 World Championships in Chelyabinsk.
Malloy has proven that she is a force, and can beat anyone, any time, on the biggest stages. And the fact that she has already competed on the World stage in Rio in 2013 and came away with a Silver since the last Olympics, means that she will have a psychological edge when she steps out there this week in that same venue.
Judo is a sport filled with some of the most intense athletes you will ever meet, and among her peers Malloy stands out as especially fierce, just like her teammates Kayla Harrison and Travis Stevens, and Ronda Rousey before them, and Jimmy Pedro before Ronda. American Judoka have always been a rugged, psychotically competitive bunch. Maybe it’s because the rest of the world never expected much from USA Judo, and they’ve had to earn their respect the hard way. Or because most American Judoka are hardened East Coasters who, like the rest of us, were born with a chip on their shoulder, constantly angry and ready to hit someone? Who knows! Point is, the normally sweet and humble Malloy is a killer without remorse when she’s competing, zero fucks given and all that. Like Kayla and Travis, I think this trait will keep her from underachieving, at the very least.
What really separates Coach Jimmy Pedro’s judo assassins from the rest of the world is their gripping and newaza skills. Getting hungry for the ippon with a lot of failed throw attempts comes with greater risk against someone like Malloy, who can attack the turtle for an armbar or choke as good or better than anyone else in her bracket. Elite gripping and newaza is tough to deal with any time, but especially in Golden Score.
Unfortunately for Malloy, her bracket is tough, arguably the second toughest road to the semi-finals of any other Top 8 competitor outside of Automne Pavia (who could potentially face the #11 ranked Nekoda Smythe-Davis and Kaori Matsumoto in her first two matches – brutal!).
Malloy could possibly face Taipei’s Chen-Ling Lien in her first match, who beat Malloy in their only recorded match at last year’s Budapest Grand Prix, and holds recent wins over Matsumoto and Jan-Di Kim. Lien is not a superior player to Malloy, but her track record of beating Top 8 competition over the last few years should strike enough fear into whoever she faces.
If Malloy beats Lien, then she will most likely face Corina Caprioriu of Romania, who beat Malloy in the 2012 Olympics en route to a Silver Medal, and also beat her at the 2011 World Championships. Again, Malloy is a better Judoka, but Caprioriu is a stylistically problematic matchup for her. She plays from a bent over stance, with tucked elbows, like a wrestler, refusing to engage in the type of grip fight that Malloy prefers. This might prove costly against someone with excellent newaza like Malloy, but Caprioriu’s newaza is almost on equal footing to Malloy’s. The way Caprioriu moves from the top, it is clear that she has advanced knowledge of open guard passing. From her stance to her passing, Caprioru reminds me of BJJ player with wrestling skill. She also uses some unorthodox belt grips with success. Malloy has had time to brood over her loss and has improved much since 2012 under one of the best coaches in the world in Jimmy Pedro, while Caprioriu hasn’t always brought the consistency you would expect from someone of her talent level. If they do meet, I believe Malloy will be victorious.
And if that does happen, she will probably have to overcome Jan-Di Kim of Korea in the semi-finals. Kim is another poor style matchup for Malloy, because she is the superior grip fighter. Malloy went 1-2 against Kim since 2013, and in both losses it seemed like Kim’s grips were always just a bit better.
On the other side of the bracket, I predict that #1 World ranked Sumiya Dorjsuren will suffer an upset loss to Portgual’s Telma Monteiro, who I think is a sleeper to win Gold or Silver. She was 7-6 against Top 8 competition since 2013, and went 2-1 against Dorjsuren. She enters the Olympics with incredible momentum, having toppled three Top 11 ranked women including Dorjsuren and Yoshida, en route to winning the Paris Grand Slam last year. With only one tournament under her belt in 2016, Monteiro will be well rested, as opposed to the workhorse Dorjsuren, who like the rest of her Mongolian teammates seemed to be competing almost every month for the last two years. Like #1 Ranked Women’s -48kg competitor, Mongolia’s Urantsetseg Munkhbat, who lost her second match today and might not even walk away with a Bronze this year, Dorjsuren might have peaked too early in the year. If she does beat Monteiro, then her likely draw is either Matsumoto, who dominated her with a 3-1 record since 2013, or Pavia who she beat twice but both times made it very close with superior height and reach used effectively in protracted grip battles.
Matsumoto, on the other hand, absolutely ran through top flight competition the past three years with a startling .800 win percentage against Top 15 opponents. She was 7-5 against her fellow Top 8 rankers, but without Receveaux in the tournament (her biggest stylistic nightmare), that record improves to 7-2. She also finishes 54.5% of her victories by ippon, an absolutely insane number. The next best Win by Ippon percentage in the Top 10 is Receveaux with 42%, followed by Monteiro with 39%. As the defending Gold medalist from the 2012 Olympics, Matsumoto has to be looked upon as the number one player in the division until somebody else wins Gold.
It really is a shame that Receveaux won’t have the opportunity to compete due to the rules, because she tore through everyone not named Dorjsuren (she really has plagued the French team, huh?) and established herself as one of the favorites to win Gold or Silver. But rules are rules, and it’s hard to argue against Pavia’s placing in the tournament after beating Receveaux in one of the most intense Judo matches of the last four years.
Either way, I see one of Monteiro, Pavia, or Matsumoto coming out of Pools A + B side of the bracket to face Malloy, Kim, or Caprioriu in the Finals.
Malloy has beaten Pavia and Matsumoto before, and eliminated Monteiro four years ago in London. She has also beaten Kim.
I think if Malloy can get to the finals, she will win. But I also think her best chance at making it there is if Jan-Di Kim loses via upset to somebody prior to the semi-finals.
Check back for Part 2, when I preview Men’s -81kg featuring Travis Stevens.
All stats provided by Judobase.org.