Written by Jo Crowley on 25. May 2024
Photographs by Emanuele Di Feliciantonio, Tamara Kulumbegashvili
Goki Tajima, Japan’s entry at -90 kg, was magnificent to watch on both his individual competition day and during the mixed team event of the Abu Dhabi World Championships. There were spectacular throws, great energy and, most of all, he looked to be having a fantastic time!

The 26 year old was junior world champion 7 years ago but since then hasn’t amassed the results one might have expected. Bronze medals in Ekaterinburg and Tbilisi, 4 years apart, and that’s about it. Why though? Perhaps it is as simple as the depth of excellence in Japan being prohibitive for some.

Winning gold at the 2017 World Junior Championships, using one of his tokui-waza, seoi-nage.

No matter why we have barely seen him before, Tajima was outstanding in Abu Dhabi, a triumph of technique and entertainment. He won with a right ko-uchi-gari against Hazem (EGY) in round one, a left uchi-mata followed by hara-gatame against Macedo (BRA) in round 2. Mosakhlishvili (ESP) was turned and held for ippon next before he threw Sherov (KGZ) with a massive obi-tori-gaeshi in the semi-final.

In the final, a world champion from yesteryear, Nemanja Majdov (SRB) was also taken out with the obi-tori-gaeshi, combined with a ko-soto-gake for Goki Tajima to become world champion, almost from nowhere. A gold medal, a great deal of kudos and 2000 points have flung him up to 22nd on the World Rankjng List, joining the big boys, the incumbents.

The -90 kg final: Nemanja Majdov (SRB) vs Goki Tajima (JPN).

Once the competition ended, Tajima took some time to speak about his approach, “Competing and fighting is tough but it’s a lot of fun to think about strategies and then execute them. Every fight is a puzzle and solving it is satisfying.

I work a lot on my seoi-nage and uchi-mata and I want to add something to strengthen those as my core techniques. I do a lot on the left and I want to keep polishing those.

I’ve been inspired by Takashi Ono, my coach at Tsukuba University. I chose Tsukuba instead of the university I was supposed to go to; I went to a feeder school for Kokushikan University. I chose Tsukuba because of the great champions who have come through there. I love their style of judo.

I met Ono sensei and right away he looked after me, always adding to my judo. He wasn’t just a technical coach but really listened to me and looked out for me in many ways, both in judo and in life beyond the tatami. I’m really grateful to him and I know that this gold medal means I made the right choice.”

Goki Tajima, world champion.

Who knows when we might see Goki Tajima again but the whirlwind of dynamic, fun judo he brought to Abu Dhabi was memorable and we will all look forward to his next appearance on the IJF tatami!

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