Eighteen athletes traveled to Doha, Qatar for the 2023 World Judo Championships
Team USA selected eighteen athletes to represent the USA at the 2023 World Judo Championships in Doha, Qatar. The squad is very experienced, with 17 of the 18 members making their return to the Senior World Championship team.
This year's squad was highlighted by two olympians, Angie Delgado -52kg (two-time olympian) and Nina Cutro-Kelly +78kg. Unfortunately, Nina had to pull out of competition at the last minute and was replaced by Mackenzie Williams in the +78kg division. Maria Laborde also highlighted Team USA as she leads all U.S. athletes in the Olympic Rankings, sitting at 14th heading into the world championships.
Team USA also featured three junior level competitors ready to make their mark at the senior level of competition. They are Jack Yonezuka and Dominic Rodriguez -73kg as well as Christian Konoval +100kg. Yonezuka would be the star of the show for Team USA. More to come on his performance down below.
Maria Lamborde was granted a first round during the drawing of -48kg. However, the first matchup of the day would not be an easy one as she faced Natsumi Tsunoda, the two time reigning world champion from Japan. Lamborde would lose by way of ippon and Tsunoda would become World Champion once again at -48kg for the third year in a row.
Angie Delgado kicked things off for Team USA with two waza-aris against Djamila Silva (CPV) to move on. In the following round, Delgado would meet with Amandine Buchard (FRA). It was a battle from start to finish, however, Angie would lose this one via waza-ari. Buchard would go on to win a bronze medal.
It was a tough day for the woman of the -57kg category. Tasha Cancela would lose the first round to Marica Perisic (SRB). Mariah Holguin came out hot, winning by ippon in just under a minute in the first round against Donne Breytenbach (RSA). In the next round, Holguin would come face to face with olympian Timna Nelson-Levy (ISR) who has had a fantastic 2023 season. Holguin battled hard throughout the competition. Just after the 3 minute mark, she would lose by ippon and Nelson-Levy would move on to the next round continuing her amazing season.
It was another tough round for the USA women competing in the -63kg division. Sara Golden fought her best match. She would eventually lose in golden score at the 6 minute mark to Anriquelis Barrios (VEN). Hanah Martin lost in the first round to Lubjana Piovesana (AUT), who would go all the way to the semi finals losing to eventual world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA).
Chantal Wright fought hard in her lone match at -70kg. She faced off with Nyam-Erdene Batsuuri (MGL) who scored two waza-aris to move on to the next round. Nicole Stout received a bye in the first round of the draw at -78kg. In the second round she met with Jeongyun Lee (KOR). Stout’s lone match of the day would be a quick one as she was thrown for ippon in just under a minute of competition. As stated earlier, Mackenzie Williams came to replace olympian Nina Cutro-Kelly at +78kg. She moved on to the second round by walkover in the first round. Her lone match was a quick one to say the least, losing by ippon in under 10 seconds to Xin Su (CHN).
The male competitors of Team USA at -66kg did not see much more success than our female competitors. Ari Berliner had a tough opening match against Muhammed Demirel (TUR). Their match would head into golden score with Demirel taking the win at the start of the overtime. Isaiah Ramirez met with Matej Poliak (SVK) who would first score waza-ari before throwing for ippon. In the following round, Poliak would lose to the former two time world champion as well as last year’s and this year's silver medalist, Joshiro Maruyama (JPN).
Team USA saw the majority of their success in the -73kg category from junior competitors Dominic Rodriguez and Jack Yonesuka. Rodriguez won his first round match against Keisei Nakano (PHL) but ultimately fell in the following round to Petru Pelivan (MDA). Pelivan would lose in the following round to the eventual and newly crowned world champion at -73kg, Nils Stump (SUI).
Yonezuka made it further than any other American judoka on the world stage. He won his opening match against German Alexander Bernd Gabler by way of ippon with a beautiful ouchi-gari as Jack rose to his feet following a previous failed throw. The next match for Yonezuka would not be an easy one as this match would lead into a golden score lasting more than 3 minutes. He was faced with Faye Njie (GAM) and the two both battled hard throughout the contest. Neither judoka was able to secure a throw warranting points and each held good positioning throughout making it very difficult for the both of them to throw. It became evident that Yonezuka saw something in the newaza exchanges he could take advantage of as he pushed the pace in the transitions trying for a pinning position. Yonezuka came on strong with a choke attempt early in the golden score. After 3 minutes it was clear that Faye had enough of Yonezuka’s tenacity. He would succumb to the pinning position and Jack would be moving on once more. From there, Jack would not take his foot off the gas pedal against Hidayat Heydarov (AZE). It seemed this match would also be destined for the golden score round. Jack fought hard but was eventually thrown for ippon, ending his day as a top 16 performer. The 20 year old would finish as the top performer for Team USA at the worlds.
Kell Berliner and Nick Yonezuka would not see the same success in the -81kg. Berliner would unfortunately lose his opening match to Pawel Dryzmal (POL). Nick Yonezuka received a bye in the first round during the drawing. His first match of the day would be against Medickson Del Orbe Cortorreal (DOM). Nick fought incredibly hard but would end up losing by way of 2 waza-ari.
Unfortunately, the rest of Team USA would experience similar results. John Jayne -90kg would lose in the opening rounds to Marcus Nyman (SWE) who would go on to win the bronze medal. L.A. Smith -100kg received a bye in the opening rounds but was stopped in the second round by Zlatko Kumric (CRO). Kumric would lose in the following round to Georgian world number 1 at -100kg, Ilia Sulamanidze. At +100kg, Christian Konoval, would not make it past the first round, falling to Azamat Chotchaev (BRN).
It was not the result we had hoped for Team USA. We congratulate each and every athlete on their performance. They all performed their best and fought hard from hajime to the final mate of each match. We wish the very best for all the Team USA athletes as they continue to push through the 2023 season in hopes of qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.