Jack Yonezuka Becomes First U.S. Man to Win Junior World Silver
by Nicole Jomantas
(Colorado Springs, CO) – The history Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NY / NYAC / Cranford Judo & Karate Center) made at the 2022 Junior Worlds got an additional chapter written on Thursday when the Paris Olympic hopeful won a second straight medal with a silver medal win in Odivelas, Portugal.
A last-minute addition to Team USA in 2022, Yonezuka shocked the world with his bronze medal win in the 73 kg division – becoming the first U.S. man to reach the Junior World podium in 30 years.
This year, Yonezuka came in as the No. 3 in the Junior World rankings with a season of competing on the senior tour and two Senior World Championship appearances under his belt.
“I just wanted to enjoy it today,” said Yonezuka who was coming off a fifth-place finish at the Senior Pan American Championships in September. “For Senior Pan Ams, I put a lot of pressure on myself and I realized that there’s no need to put pressure. It’s another opportunity to just go out and fight your best and do your judo. That’s kind of how I went into this competition and it worked out well.”
Yonezuka started the day with a bye before his round of 32 match against 2023 Junior Pan Am and Oceania Championships bronze medalist Vinicius Ardina (BRA). As the clock ticked down in the final minute, Yonezuka took the match to the ground, pinning Ardina in the final seconds for a waza-ari (half-point) as time ran out.
“The first match for me is always the hardest. I’ve fought this guy before and I knew stylistically he was tough for me, but I knew I could pull out the win,” Yonezuka said. “I actually didn’t expect it to be with newaza because last time it didn’t do super well for me, but I pulled it out. I got the nerves out and then just onto the next match.”
In the next round, Yonezuka put his newaza skills to work again, needing less than a minute to pin Muhiddin Asadulloev (TJK) and advance to the quarter-finals where he threw Mouhammad Gazaloev (BEL) for ippon early in the second minute.
Yonezuka drew 2022 Cadet World Champion Keito Kihara (JPN) in the semifinals just a day after Japan swept the lightweight gold medals in both the men’s and women’s events.
“I was actually pretty confident going into the semifinals because I’d watched all of his matches throughout the day and I noticed that he was getting tired,” Yonezuka said. “He had a lot of Golden Score fights and he got scored on in the round of 16 and I could just tell he was getting worn down throughout the day.”
Yonezuka scored first, throwing Kihara for a waza-ari in the second minute, but was caught by Kihara for a waza-ari in the third minute to tie the score.
At the end of regulation, each athlete had a waza-ari and a penalty. Just 14 seconds into Golden Score (sudden death overtime), both athletes were given a stalling penalty putting the pressure on. Less than a minute later, Yonezuka seized an opportunity and threw Kihara for another waza-ari.
“I knew if I could take this match into Golden Score – as I like to say ‘deep waters’ – I could get him for sure,” Yonezuka said. “I’m a pretty well-conditioned athlete so, as the match goes on longer, other guys start to lose energy and get weaker and my strength and energy is still there.”
The win put Yonezuka into the finals for the first time for a U.S. athlete at Junior Worlds since Kayla Harrison (Middletown, Ohio) won gold in 2008 and silver in 2009.
“Knowing that you’re in the final and that you can become World Champion is an amazing feeling. I was super happy, of course, but, right after the semifinal match I was like ‘We’re on the podium, but it’s time to step on top,” he said.
In the finals, Yonezuka and 2022 European Junior Champion Vusal Galandarzade (AZE) battled for four minute without a score. In the first exchange of overtime, however, Galandarzade threw Yonezuka for ippon (instant win) to claim gold.
The silver medal finish makes Yonezuka won of just five U.S. athletes ever to advance to the Junior World finals and the only man. Each of the previous four Junior World finalists would go on to compete at the Olympic Games. Hillary Wolf Saba (Colorado Springs, CO) won gold in 1994 before qualifying for both the 1996 and 2000 Games. Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, CA) took silver at the 2000 Junior Worlds and later fought at the 2008 Games. Ronda Rousey (Santa Monica, CA) became the first U.S. athlete to win two Junior World medals with gold shortly after her Olympic debut in 2004 and bronze in 2006. Rousey would end her storied career with Olympic bronze in 2008. Harrison was Team USA’s last Junior Worlds finalist, winning gold in 2008 and silver in 2009 before winning back-to-back Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016.
On the men’s side, Jimmy Pedro (Methuen, MA) and Jason Morris (Scotia, NY) each won Junior World bronze medals before reaching the Olympic podium with Pedro winning bronze in 1996 and 2004 and Morris winning silver in 1992.
“It’s pretty awesome being in the same conversation as athletes like that,” said Yonezuka who earned significant Olympic qualification points with his finish in Portugal. “It gives me confidence to keep going and one day I’ll reach the top and become an Olympic or Senior World medalist.”
As the son of 1980 Olympian Nick Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ), Yonezuka had to look no further than the coaching box to see the first person he would celebrate the podium finish with.
“Being able to share this moment with him is great because he doesn’t get to travel with me all the time so, when he is there and I can share this moment with him, it’s awesome.”
Team USA’s Emily Jaspe (Hialeah, FL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) earned a top-16 finish in the women’s 63 kg category on Thursday, finishing 1-1 on the day.
Jaspe, a fifth-place finisher at the Cadet World Championships in August in the 63 kg category, threw Aitana Fernandez Herrera (ESP) for a waza-ari score, but lost her next match when she was thrown for a waza-ari and then pinned by Nina Simic (CRO) – the 2023 European Junior Championships bronze medalist who went on to win Junior World bronze.
Two-time Junior World Team member Karlee Carrouth (Oklahoma City, OK / NYAC / USA Stars) fought for three minutes in the table of 32 against Mizuki Takaki (JPN) before being thrown for ippon by the eventual Junior World silver medalist.
Yonezuka’s teammate in the 73 kg event, Ruslan Korotich (Katy, TX / Revolution Judo), fought Abubakr Sherov (TJK) who threw the first-time Junior World Team member for a pair of waza-ari scores in the first two minutes as his first win of a day that would end with bronze.
A bronze medalist at the Cadet Pan Ams last month, Jasmine Macias (La Puente, CA / Guerreros Judo) drew two-time senior Grand Prix medalist Thauany David Capanni Dias (FRA) in her opening match where she was thrown for waza-ari scores in the first and third minutes.
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Men’s 73 kg
1. Vusal Galandarzade (AZE)
2. Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford Judo & Karate Center)
3. Mouhammad Gazaloev (BEL)
3. Abubakr Sherov (TJK)
5. Adilet Almat (KAZ)
5. Keito Kihara (JPN)
7. Ioan Dzitac (ROU)
7. Eliot Preve (FRA)
Also Competed: Ruslan Korotich (Katy, TX / Revolution Judo), 0-1
Women’s 57 kg
1. Veronica Toniolo (ITA)
2. Riko Honda (JPN)
3. Julie Beurskens (NED)
3. Beatriz Comanche (BRA)
5. Pihla Salonen (FIN)
5. Adriana Rodriguez Salvador (ESP)
7. Dana Abdirova (KAZ)
7. Verena Hidden (AUT)
Also Competed: Jasmine Macias (La Puente, CA / Guerreros Judo), 0-1
Women’s 63 kg
1. Melkia Auchecorne (FRA)
2. Mizuki Takaki (JPN)
3. Martyna Glubiak (POL)
3. Nina Simic (CRO)
5. Jimin Yang (KOR)
5. Anna Kriza (HUN)
7. Julie Falgon (FRA)
7. Louna-Lumia Seikkula (FIN)
Also Competed: Emily Jaspe (Hialeah, FL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center), 1-1
Karlee Carrouth (Oklahoma City, OK / NYAC / USA Stars), 0-1