Maria Laborde Makes History with Silver at World Judo Masters
by Nicole Jomantas
(Colorado Springs, CO) – Maria Laborde (Kenosha, WI / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) became just the third USA Judo athlete in history to win a medal at the World Judo Masters on Friday when she earned silver at 48 kg in Budapest, Hungary.
One of the largest point opportunities towards qualification for the Paris Olympic Games, the World Masters is an invitation-only tournament for the top 36 judoka in each weight category in the world. The Masters offers 1,800 World Ranking points to each gold medalist – only 10% less than the World Championships (2,000) and nearly double the points available at a Grand Slam (1,000).
The first U.S. athlete to reach the podium at this event since 2016, Laborde follows in the footsteps of two-time Olympic Champion Kayla Harrison (Middletown, OH) and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Travis Stevens (Wakefield, MA). Harrison won back-to-back Masters titles in 2015 and 2016 and Stevens earned the 2016 gold.
A two-time Senior World medalist for Cuba, Laborde quit the sport when she came to the United States after winning individual bronze at the 2014 Senior Worlds. In 2022, she returned to the international circuit – this time fighting for the United States – with the goal of qualifying for her first Olympic Games.
Laborde started the day in Budapest as the highest ranked U.S. athlete in the Olympic Rankings at No. 19, but her 4-1 run was nearly cut short in the opening minute of the round of 32 when she was thrown for a waza-ari (half-point) score by two-time Olympian Shira Rishony (ISR). Laborde didn’t give up, however, and threw the six-time Grand Slam medalist for ippon in the final 30 seconds of the match.
“We just went to Japan and trained really hard for three weeks and I think it really helped prepare me for Masters,” said Laborde who put one of the techniques she honed in Japan to use in her opening match. “I was working on the kata guruma a lot in Japan and was really happy with it today.”
In the next round, Laborde threw Chen-Hao Lin (TPE) – a seventh-place finisher at the Tokyo Games for a waza-ari just over two minutes into the match and held Lin scoreless for the remainder of the match.
With one win needed to put herself into the medal rounds, Laborde fought four-time Grand Slam medalist Laura Martinez Abelenda (ESP) into the second minute of Golden Score before claiming the victory on penalties.
Laborde drew World No. 6 Milica Nikolic (SRB) in the semifinals – a familiar opponent who Laborde defeated at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam earlier this year. Laborde found herself trailing early in the match when she was given two penalties in less than 90 seconds. Knowing a third would equal a loss, Laborde continued attacking and avoided further mistakes, throwing Nikolic for a waza-ari in the second minute and staying penalty-free for the remainder of the match.
“I wasn’t worried. I had fought her before and know what she does, so I was excited to fight her again and knew I could win,” Laborde said.
In the finals, Laborde would take on Wakana Koga – a Japanese standout who already holds two Senior World medals at the age of 22. Throughout her career, Koga has never competed on the international circuit without winning a medal and has only lost two individuals at IJF events outside of her teammates. A silver medalist at the 2022 Masters, Koga was set for gold in Budapest, taking Laborde to the mat before throwing her for ippon to claim her first Masters title.
“This is a huge win and I’m happy, but I’m always looking for more. I don’t want to stay at silver if I can get gold,” Laborde said.
With a just under a year remaining until the Paris Olympic Games, Laborde will have plenty more chances for gold as Olympic qualification continues through June 24 of 2024.
After nearly seven years away from competition, Laborde has found her stride, reaching the podium after top-seven finishes in four of her last five Grand Slam or Grand Prix events.
She credits her coach, Jhonny Prado (Coral Springs, FL), and teammates for all of their support and encouragement to return to the sport she loves.
“I wasn’t going to come back to judo, but my coaches and my teammates, everybody said ‘Maria, you can do it. You can do it.’” Laborde said. “I knew I could do it, but winning a Masters medal – it’s still like ‘wow, this is huge.’”
Prado, a member of the coaching staff at the 2020 Olympic Games, was in the box for Laborde in Budapest.
“I think the hard work’s paying off. Maria and Angelica and Mariah spent three weeks in Japan training for this tournament and she has really done the work in training and in competition leading up to this,” he said.
Laborde’s teammates, Angelica Delgado (Miami, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center / 52 kg) and Mariah Holguin (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo / 57 kg) also fought in Budapest on Friday with John Jayne (Chicago, IL) scheduled to compete on Sunday at 90 kg.
A two-time Olympian, Delgado got the day off to a good start, throwing Joana Diogo (POR) for a huge ippon just 10 seconds into the round of 32 to secure valuable Olympic qualifying points. Delgado took 2021 Senior World medalist Gefen Primo (ISR) to Golden Score in the round of 16, but was given her third penalty of the match after another minute and failed to advance. Primo went on to earn her first bronze medal at the Masters.
Holguin drew Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Sarah Leonie Cysique (FRA) in the first round, falling by ippon to Cysique who went on to win her third straight Masters silver medal.
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Men’s 60 kg
1. Ryuju Nagayama (JPN)
2. Ariunbold Enkhtaivan (MGL)
3. Naohisa Takato (JPN)
3. Won Jin Kim (KOR)
5. Salih Yildiz (TUR)
5. Balabay Aghayev (AZE)
7. Tsogt-Ochir Byambaav (MGL)
7. Temur Nozadze (GEO)
Women’s 48 kg
1. Wakana Koga (JPN)
2. Maria Laborde (Kenosha, WI / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
3. Assunta Scutto (ITA)
3. Baasankhuu Bavuudorj (MGL)
5. Milica Nikolic (SRB)
5. Laura Martinez Abelenda (ESP)
7. Catarina Costa (POR)
7. Narantsetseg Ganbaatar (MGL)
Men’s 66 kg
1. Ryoma Tanaka (JPN)
2. Denis Vieru (MDA)
3. Baul An (KOR)
3. Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (UAE)
5. Erkembayar Battogtokh (MGL)
5. Bogdan Iadov (UKR)
7. Elios Manzi (ITA)
7. Matteo Piras (ITA)
Women’s 52 kg
1. Amandine Buchard (FRA)
2. Distria Krasniqi (KOS)
3. Diyora Keldiyorova (UZB)
3. Gefen Primo (ISR)
5. Chelsie Giles (GBR)
5. Reka Pupp (HUN)
7. Mascha Ballhaus (GER)
7. Yeqing Zhu (CHN)
Also Competed: Angelica Delgado (Miami, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center), 1-1
Women’s 57 kg
1. Jessica Klimkait (CAN)
2. Sarah Leonie Cysique (FRA)
3. Haruka Funakubo (JPN)
3. Daria Bilodid (UKR)
5. Priscilla Gneto (FRA)
5. Pauline Starke (GER)
7. Telma Monteiro (POR)
7. Veronica Toniolo (ITA)
Also Competed: Mariah Holguin (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo), 0-1