TOKIO/LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE – Tuesday, July 27, was D-day for Matthias Casse, the reigning World Champion and current No. 1 in the world for weight category -81kg. His first Olympic participation is now a fact and what a thriller it was! After an extremely exciting course, our compatriot took the bronze medal in style.
Let’s recap Casse’s long and enduring pathway to the Olympic podium in Tokyo.
After a bye in the first round, Matthias starts his Olympic tournament in the Japanese Budokan against Puerto Rican Adrian Gandia, the number 33 in the World Ranking. A surprising start because after hardly 20 seconds Matthias is almost knocked out by his opponent trailing behind a point. Casse immediately counterattacks and seems to score with ippon, but after the video check, it is converted to waza-ari. Hence equality. After two failed attempts for a shoulder throw by Matthias, the bout continues in overtime. And there Matthias shows his qualities with a strong arm lock that provides him his first victory. After a minor start, Matthias has recovered well by scoring quickly against his opponent.
In the third round, Matthias faces Swedish judoka Robin Pacek, the number 28 in the IJF world ranking. Casse already met the Swede three times on the mat, with our compatriot winning the head-to-head encounter twice. Pacek quickly scores a first point. Immediately Matthias corrects with a nice throw that gives him a waza-ari. He tries another shoulder throw, but without the intended result and the side goes into overtime again. Both Pacek and Casse take a first penalty point. The fatigue starts to weigh on the Swede who gets a second penalty point. Three minutes into the Golden Score, a strong Matthias beats the exhausted Swede with a sacrifice throw. Our compatriot advances to the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals, the Antwerp resident will face the Russian Alan Khubetsov (8 WRL). They met only once on the tatami previously, at the Baku Grand Slam in 2019. Matthias then defeated the Russian and now succeeds again in Tokyo. However, our compatriot needed the extra time to put Khubetsov aside to secure his way to the semi-finals. It was initially a very probing bout in which Casse tried to floor a stiff opponent, who locked up into defense. Which in the long run had a countereffect on the Russian's performance. Both judokas take a penalty point, but Khubetsov gets 2 more, which immediately resulted in his elimination in the Golden Score. Matthias therefore qualifies for the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Matthias faces Japan's Nagase Takanori (13 WRL). He only fought Nagase once, during the Grand Prix in Montréal (2019), also in the semifinals, which he then lost. It becomes a bout on the cutting edge. Both judokas look for an opening in wait-and-see modus which the referee rewards with penalty points for passivity. They keep on grabbing, trying, and holding on into the Golden Score. Meanwhile, Casse receives a second penalty point and cannot parry a throw from the Japanese, who scores a point and wins the match. Hence, no final for our compatriot. However, the road to the Olympic podium is still open. The opponent to beat for the bronze medal is the Georgian Tato Grigalashvili. A repeat of the World Championship final in Budapest.
The Georgian attacks quite quickly in this last match and Matthias gets a penalty point for passivity. Grigalashvili tries to floor Matthias with seoi nage, but Matthias takes over and scores with ippon. A fantastic takeover with which our compatriot delivers Belgium the 10th Olympic bronze medal in judo, the 13th judo medal overall.
“I managed to recharge after losing in the semifinals quite well. So, I was ready for it,” says Matthias in the Mixed Zone. “It was a re-run of the World Cup final in Budapest. I trained so hard in that way of scoring that it now followed almost instinctively, without really thinking about it. I am therefore happy that this was successful.” No Olympic gold for the reigning World Champion, but he's not disappointed. “I can look back on this day with satisfaction, despite the fact that the gold has slipped away from me,” says Casse. He reacts like a real professional to his defeat in the semifinals. “The referee makes a decision and I'm not going to argue about that. I'll just bear the consequences and next time I'll just have to do better. However, I am very happy with my season. Silver at the European Championships, gold at the Worlds, and now bronze at the OG," commented an emotional Casse. “I will continue to work hard. There will be new tournaments where I can show that I’m still growing in my judo.”
“Matthias is made for this kind of competition,” says Judo Vlaanderen Technical Director Topsport Koen Sleeckx from Tokyo. “The better his opponents, the higher his level. In the semifinal he loses against home champion Nagase after an exciting match. He can charge himself nicely for bronze and wins with a beautiful takeover. A big congratulations to Matthias! But also, great work by coaches Mark van der Ham and Damiano Martinuzzi and the medical support with Tom, Luc and Vincent, Dr. Peter Smolders, Bellemans and Henry. Without forgetting sparring partner Karel Foubert and all the other judokas Matthias trains with, as well as Robin Jacobs, Matthias' manager!”
“What a beautiful day of judo for Matthias Casse,” says JV Head Coach Mark van der Ham. “Winning a bronze medal after a not ideal preparation is fantastic. The day started rough, but Matthias got better bout after bout and achieved his absolute top level claiming Olympic bronze by beating the Georgian Grigalashvili with a tough takeover!”