Now forfeited in Tokyo, everything today contributes to ejecting the Legend Ono from the Paris program, without even giving him a chance. “Fast-judo” does not have time to wait for the legend of Tenri, who considers that competition at this pace is less and less his cup of tea. At The Spirit of Judo, we think that’s a shame. Let’s vote Ono!
As we know, the greatest judo champion of his generation in terms of style, the Japanese Shohei Ono, sets the bar so high each time he goes out at the international level that, in recent years, he has taken his time between two grandiose performances, the time it takes for him to reach his best physical, technical and mental level.
Since 2015, the legend has been set like clockwork, accepting, after the 2016 Olympics, to not head for the 2017, 2018 (and of course 2021) world championships. Each time, it is to better endorse his status as an interplanetary judo star and deliver a charismatic and exemplary performance, as close as possible to absolute perfection.
After his second Olympic title, at twenty-nine, Shohei Ono retired again to recharge, expressing not only a legitimate need for rest, but also an obvious weariness with the need to also prepare for the tactical issues related to the rules and refereeing (read his exclusive interview in the n°100 of L’Esprit du Judo, you can order the digital issue here https://spiritofjudo.com/index.php/produit/spirit-of-judo-100/ ).
His impressive tempo as a champion in total control suffered from the pandemic but is above all today swept away by the casualness of the international federation which this year is offering world championships in October, when the following ones will be in May, in an Olympic cycle of three years. Ono did not take part in the Tashkent tour in October and, for the moment, still far from the motivation and the preparation he needs to express himself at his best level, he has finally decided to not appear on the tatami in Tokyo at the beginning of December. Usually scheduled in the spring, the Japanese championship should have been the benchmark with the world championships right behind to affirm his return, a way of positioning himself in 2023 for Paris 2024, as he had done in 2015 to prepare 2016, and in 2019 to prepare for 2020. But the choices of the IJF forced the Japanese federation to accelerate everything, by choosing its selection for Doha at the latest in February, without therefore going through the stop of the national championship. Already… 41st (!) in the ranking list due to the avalanche of Grand Slams which distribute points all over the place, the reigning double Olympic champion will thus simply see the door close on an Olympic selection. Japan will indeed choose the best of Tokyo, the Masters, even the Grand Slams of Paris and Tel Aviv for Doha, which will be the springboard for Paris… and Shohei Ono will not have any opportunity to get on board, since, in theory, the Japanese management will not give him a tournament due to his absence. The circumstances as well as the choices of the IJF and the Japanese federation quite simply are pushing Shohei Ono into retirement, one year away from an event where this formidable promoter of judo and fine movements could be aiming for a third Olympic title and thus join the status of his illustrious sempai of Tenri, Tadahiro Nomura. In his current state of mind, Ono will not be one to shout out and might decide that if he is not needed… Leaving on tiptoe, like the trail of a bygone past of the most exciting champion of the decade, would be a very bad sign for the future of judo. Let’s tell him very loud and clear that we want to see him at least one last time in a big event, let’s tell the Japanese federation that the whole world wants them to offer Ono the opportunity to show that he can perform well at the Olympics when he is ready to do so, and to the international federation that it must stop messing around with the calendar, as well as with the regulations.
The journey of Shohei Ono
Already a “star” in his expression of judo and attitude, the young junior world champion, who turned twenty at the start of the year, rocketed up at the end of 2012 by throwing the athlete selected for the Olympics, Riki Nakaya, with an o-so-amazing o-soto-gari. The following year, he took part in his first senior world championships, which he won, at the age of twenty-one, by beating the Frenchman Legrand with an impressive hane-goshi. Unprepared in 2014, he only left Japan for the world championships in Chelyabinsk and fell with a sweep from the amazing Young Jun-Lee. A lesson, perhaps, which will encourage the legend-in-preparation to express himself at this level only when he is perfectly prepared. He got back on the road in the winter of 2014-2015, at the Tokyo and Düsseldorf Tournaments, before going on to win his second world title in Astana in the summer. To prepare for the Rio Olympics, which he won in 2016, at the age of twenty-four, he only appeared in Germany. In Brazil, he delivered a very high performance, winning the first Japanese men’s Olympic title since Satoshi Ishii in 2008.
The two-times world champion and Olympic champion then did not appear again until… December 2017, for a single round in Tokyo, and a collection of unpreparedness. He reappeared once again in Germany to prepare for the 2018 Asian Games, with a new victory. He did not appear at the world championships in Budapest in 2017 or those in Baku in 2018. But he had his second Olympic title in sight, in 2020, and his preparation lead through Japan at the end of the year 2018, then Germany at the beginning of 2019, and a new world victory at the world championships in Tokyo. A final stage remained as far as he was concerned for his preparation to the Olympics, Germany one last time in February 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, Ono only appeared for the Tokyo Olympics… postponed by a year and a half, in July 2021. His last victory to date, at the age of twenty-nine.
As great judo genius as he is, the boss has always made the Japanese championships, from 2012 to 2019, except in 2017 when he had no intention of winning national and international competitions, winning three titles and seven medals in seven appearances.