PREVIEW-Olympics-Judo-Japan judokas aim for 'medal rush' in Tokyo

TOKYO, June 30 (Reuters) - Japanese judokas are expected to go on a medal rush at the Tokyo Olympics, bolstering the home country’s dominance of the sport born in Japan to the delight of the home fans.

At the 2019 world championships in Tokyo, home judokas won a total of 16 medals including five gold medals, with second-ranked France claiming six with three golds.

Japanese judokas look set to repeat the feat at the Games, led by top judoka Shohei Ono, when the judo matches take place at Budokan, originally built for the judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spectators may not be allowed at the Budokan, which has been known as concert venue for rock stars, such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Cheap Trick, as well as a martial arts hall.

Against this background, Ono is aiming for a second consecutive Olympic gold in the men’s 73 kg class, the most competitive weight division, with his main rival likely to be Rustam Orujov of Azerbaijan, who won silver at Rio 2016.

Other promising home judokas include the Abe siblings -- Hifumi and Uta.

Double world champion Hifumi has grabbed the men’s Olympic spot in the 66 kg class after beating a team mate in a dramatic one-off bout.

His sister Uta has won the last two world titles in the 52 kg class, having lost only once, against France’s Amandine Bouchard in 2019, over the last three years.

France look set to pose a serious challenge against the home judokas in the individual matches and the mixed team event that will debut at the Games.

Double Olympic champion Teddy Riner, 32, is aiming to make history in the heavyweight class by claiming a third consecutive gold, which would match a record held by Japan’s judoka great Tadahiro Nomura.

France’s women team appears particularly strong, with 63 kg-class five-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou aiming for her first Olympic gold medal.

Another judoka to watch in Tokyo will be Ukraine’s rising star Daria Bilodid, who has claimed two world championship and one European title in the 48 kg class.

At the Tokyo 2020 Games, one mixed-team event will be introduced, with teams of three male judokas and three female judokas, drawn from the individual competition, aiming for the first Olympics judo team medals. (Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Ken Ferris)