While the world of judo is anxiously awaiting the grudge match to play out between Joshiro Maruyama and Hifumi Abe this Sunday, there’s another one brewing over in Canada between Christa Deguchi and Jessica Klimkait, for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.
Given their close rankings (Klimkait is currently ranked No. 1 at -57kg, while Deguchi is No. 2), the fairest way to decide who gets to go to Tokyo would be to have a special competition, like the one they are having in Japan for Maruyama and Abe. And that is exactly what they will be doing except it won't be just one match but three.
“Having just one match is a dangerous way to decide,” says Judo Canada CEO Nicolas Gill. “You can always win one match by luck but to win two or three times, that’s a show of superiority.”
Judo fans who are eager to see the world’s Top 2 ranked -57kg players battle it out will have to wait for quite a while though. According to Gill, “the window to have it is between May 20 and July 3, next year."
Actually, these teammates cum rivals have fought each other several times before. And the tally is 5 to 0 in favor of Deguchi.
The first time they fought was in the 2018 Pan Am Championships in San Jose, where they met in the semifinals. Deguchi would go on to clinch the gold, while Klimkait got bronze.
The second time was in the final of the 2018 Hohhot Grand Prix. Deguchi strangled Klimkait for ippon in that one.
The third time was in the final of the 2018 Zagreb Grand Prix. That one was a lot closer. With both players having two shidos each on the board, the match was decided when Klimkait received her third shido and thus, hansoku-make.
The fourth time was in the final of the 2019 Paris Grand Slam. That was also a close one with Deguchi scoring a waza-ari with a very low osoto-gari in the dying seconds of the match.
The fifth and final time they fought was in the final of the 2019 Montreal Grand Prix, where Klimkait succumbed to Deguchi’s strangle once again.
Judging by these results, Deguchi would seem to be the favorite to win in a future head-to-head, although it must be said that they haven’t fought since July last year. By the time they have their special competition, it would be close to a year.
A year is a long time in judo and Klimkait has been looking rather impressive in her recent outings, winning the Dusseldorf Grand Prix earlier this year and the Hungary Grand Slam recently. Deguchi’s last fight was earlier this year, in the Paris Grand Slam, which she won. She did not fight in Hungary.
Who will win their special play-off will naturally be of great interest to judo fans around the world (everybody loves to watch a battle between close rivals) but what’s even more interesting is who has the better chance of winning in Tokyo?
Deguchi has fought Japan’s representative Tsukasa Yoshida three times and has beaten her twice, most recently in the 2019 World Championships final. Klimkait has fought Yoshida four times and the tally is 2:2. It’s worth mentioning though that Klimkait won their last two bouts (in last year’s Qingdao World Masters and Osaka Grand Slam).
France's Sarah Leonie Cysique is a rising star but Deguchi has fought her twice and won both times. Klimkait, meanwhile, has fought her four times and won each and every time.
As for World Champion and Olympic silver medalist Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia, Deguchi has fought her three times and won twice; while Klimkait has fought her five times and won three of those bouts.
The other top contender in this category is Nora Gjakova of Kosovo. Deguchi has fought her only once and was the victor. Klimkait, however, has fought Gjakova three times and lost all three of those matches.
Note: Olympic Champion Rafaela Silva is someone both Deguchi and Klimkait have lost to before but Silva is currently facing a doping ban and might not be allowed to compete in Tokyo.
When you look at the stats, it’s pretty hard to say whether Deguchi or Klimkait has a better chance at clinching the gold in Tokyo. Both seem to be able to handle the top representatives from Japan, France and Mongolia pretty well. When it comes to Kosovo’s Gjakova, Deguchi has an edge over Klimkait. But at the end of the day, with hardly any discernible gap between these two, having that three-match play-off is the only solution to this "good problem" that Judo Canada has in the -57kg category.
And what does Gill think of this good problem? He wishes he had more of it: “Who doesn’t want to have more World No. 1 and 2’s in the same category?”