IJF Baku Grand Slam 2017, Azerbaijan – PREVIEW

From International Judo Federation:

IJF World Judo Championships 2018 host city of Baku poised for second Grand Slam of 2017

The IJF World Judo Tour, the elite international circuit of one of the world’s most widely practiced and universal sports, emanates from Azerbaijan this weekend as the Baku Grand Slam takes place at the Heydar Aliev Arena from Friday to Sunday.

The 2017 season launched in February with the Paris Grand Slam before the first Grand Prix of the year in Dusseldorf, Germany two weeks later. A new set of rules were adopted from January and were first in place on the IJF World Judo Tour in Paris and will continue through until August’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary where they will be reviewed following the IJF’s marquee event.

Baku is one of five Grand Slam host cities and judo has been at the heart of its world-class reputation for staging top-level sports events. The Caspian Sea city, which hosted the inaugural European Games in 2015, is fastidiously preparing to host the IJF World Championships next year and this weekend’s Grand Slam will give judoka, coaches, fans and the media an illustration of the supershow that is to come in 2018.

Stars of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and pillars of the IJF World Judo Tour are set for action in Baku including Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Yuri ALVEAR (COL) and Azerbaijan heroes and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallists Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) and Elmar GASIMOV (AZE).

Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and London 2012 Olympic champion Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) and London 2012 Olympic champion Sarah MENEZES (BRA) are also among the top drawer names in action in Azerbaijan.

The official draw took place on Thursday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency hotel as Mr. Vladimir BARTA, IJF Head Sports Director, announced to the delegations that 183 judoka (110 men, 73 women) would compete from 31 countries.

Mr. Mohamed MERIDJA, IJF Education and Coaching Director, said “Mr. Vice President, dear judo friends, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the IJF I wish you all a warm welcome to Baku for our second Grand Slam of the season.

“The IJF President Mr. Marius VIZER would like to convey his best greetings to you all. We hope to have a good competition and I wish you the best of luck.”

Mr. Elmar BABANLI, Azerbaijan Judo Federation General Secretary, said: “Dear guests, dear IJF members, referees, coaches, on behalf of the Azerbaijan Judo Federation, I welcome you all to our Baku Grand Slam. I wish to everybody success and may the strongest win.”

The Baku Grand Slam 2017 will get underway on Friday afternoon as the men’s -60kg and -66kg categories and the women’s -48kg, -52kg and -57kg categories will grace the three tatami.

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) took over the IJF Instagram account on Wednesday ahead of #JudoBaku2017:

Use #JudoBaku2017 to join in with the social media discussion

Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Milica NIKOLIC (SRB) is the top seed in the -48kg category in Baku. The 22-year-old, who is up to ninth in the world rankings, finished fifth in Dusseldorf and is expected to return to the medal podium on Friday. U23 European Championships bronze medallist Alexandra POP (ROU) takes aim at her first Grand Slam medal while Rio 2016 Olympian Taciana CESAR (GBS) should also be in contention in the lightest weight category on day one.

The -52kg category will be led into action by world number seven Gili COHEN (ISR) who is the top seed. COHEN was fifth last time out at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix and is still to hit the medal trail this year. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Alexandra-Larisa FLORIAN (ROU) has never won a Grand Slam medal but that could all change on Friday as the Romanian will be the number two seed. London 2012 Olympic champion Sarah MENEZES (BRA) moved up to the -52kg category in February and should hit her stride in Baku.

Three-time Grand Slam medallist LIEN Chen-Ling (TPE) lifts the curtain on her 2017 season in Baku as the world number 12 competes for the first time since finishing fifth at the Olympic Games after losing out to training partner MATSUMOTO Kaori (JPN) for bronze. Japan-based LIEN, 29, finished seventh in Azerbaijan last year but will certainly improve on that this year and could lead the category from the offset. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Jovana ROGIC (SR) is an integral part of Serbia’s increased presence on the IJF World Judo Tour as they have assembled a group of medal winners in multiple categories. European Championships bronze medallist Timna NELSON LEVY (ISR) is also among the top seeds and should improve on her seventh-place finish in Baku from a year ago.

World number 12 Alice SCHLESINGER (GBR) is another judoka with pleasant memories of Azerbaijan having clinched the -63kg gold medal in 2016. Rio 2016 Olympian SCHLESINGER is by far the most experienced and accomplished judoka in the category in Baku and that should also be visible on Saturday evening when the medallists assemble for the awarding ceremony. Former Qingdao Grand Prix silver medallist Busra KATIPOGLU (TUR) took bronze in Baku last year and will be tipped to make a similar medal tilt on day two as the number two seed. The 25-year-old, who is sporting a new blonde look, makes her first start since the Rio 2016 Olympics where she was eliminated by eventual silver medallist Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA).

Triple world champion and double Olympic medallist Yuri ALVEAR (COL) resumes IJF World Judo Tour duty this weekend for the first time since taking silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Colombian legend ALVEAR, 30, who said ‘thank you’ in Japanese to Olympic champion TACHIMOTO Haruka (JPN) at the end of their gold medal contest in Rio de Janeiro, is the number one seed in Baku and is making the 7,733 mile journey with the sole intention of topping the -70kg podium. A Pan American talent at the opposite end of her career, 20-year-old Paris Grand Slam medallist Elvismar RODRIGUEZ (IJF), has the tools and desire to emulate Yuri ALVEAR. World number seven RODRIGUEZ is already a four-time Grand Slam bronze medallist which is actually one more Grand Slam medal than ALVEAR has won. The Colombian has won all four of their meetings to date but RODRIGUEZ looks stronger with every competition and this is one of the compelling storylines to follow in the second Grand Slam of the IJF World Judo Tour 2017.

World Judo Masters bronze medallist Guusje STEENHUIS (NED) follows her Paris Grand Slam bronze with an outing in Azerbaijan. The four-time Grand Slam winner, who was overlooked for Rio 2016, has her first world honours in her sights this year and must put in a strong display on Sunday to establish herself as one of leading candidates to become the world champion in Budapest in August. The Netherlands’ Rio 2016 pick Marhinde VERKERK (NED) is a surprise inclusion alongside STEENHUIS in Baku. Former world champion VERKERK, 31, who lost her one and only contest at the Olympics in Brazil, has not fought since Rio but still starts as the number two seed for day three in land of fire. Two-time Grand Slam winner JOO Abigel (HUN) has been one of the busiest judoka on the circuit since the Games and has a long and meticulous programme steered towards her home World Championships in Hungary.

Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Larisa CERIC (BIH) is winning medals on all fronts for her country and has become one of the best performing European judoka in the women’s +78kg category. The world number nine has won Grand Prix, Grand Slam and World Judo Masters medals in the last 12 months and now has the task of stepping up another level to medal at the World Championships this year. European champion SAYIT Kayra (TUR) will offer considerable resistance to CERIC and the leading protagonists in the heavyweight division on Sunday. The Almaty Grand Prix silver medallist finished fifth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and will launch her new Olympic cycle with opposition such as Abu Dhabi Grand Slam bronze medallist Santa PAKENYTE (LTU) eager to make a mark on the Grand Slam stage.

Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Orkhan SAFAROV (AZE) is the judoka to beat in the men’s lightest weight category on Friday. World number two SAFAROV, 25, is one of the faces of the Azerbaijan men’s team and could provide the perfect start for hosts on day one if he can repeat his 2014 home victory. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist DASHDAVAA Amartuvshin (MGL) will relish the home advantage for the top seed and the pressure on SAFAROV while world number 29 and world bronze medallist SHISHIME Toru (JPN) will certainly outperform his modest world ranking.

Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Nijat SHIKHALIZADA (AZE) will be the centre of attention in the -66kg category on day one in his native land. Rio 2016 Olympian SHIKHALIZADA, 29, has won all three colours of Baku Grand Slam hardware and starts as the top seed. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Tal FLICKER (ISR) finished seventh in Baku in 2016 and should be a different proposition this year having placed in his last five events. Zagreb Grand Prix silver medallist Baruch SHMAILOV (ISR) doubles up his country’s medal pursuit at -66kg having finished fifth in Dusseldorf while world number 21 and four-time Grand Slam winner TAKAJO Tomofumi (JPN) will be on everyone’s radar.

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) will still be smarting from his Paris Grand Slam defeat at the hands of young contender Hidayat HEYDAROV (AZE) for bronze in France in February when he takes to the tatami in Baku. World number one ORUJOV, who only lost to Ono Shohei at the Olympics last year, was tormented by 19-year-old HEYDAROV in France as he lost by a waza-ari from a seoi-nage in golden score. Both judoka will fight in Baku with more than national pride at stake while double Olympic medallist Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) and double world champion NAKAYA Riki (JPN) could stand above the Azeri aces on the podium on Saturday evening.

Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Ivaylo IVANOV (BUL) is chasing a second Grand Slam career win on Saturday. The world number two is the highest ranked -81kg judoka in Baku and will be challenged all the way by Paris Grand Slam winner Frank DE WIT (NED) who was humbled in the first round in Dusseldorf. DE WIT, 21, lost by three waza-ari having not conceded a single score in his five contests in Paris and the Dutchman will need to show his character to bounce back in Baku. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Dorin GOTONOAGA (MDA) is one of Moldova’s new crop of youngsters and will now be studied in-depth by the top seeds.

Returning four-time Grand Slam silver medallist Noel VAN T END (NED) is the top seed on his comeback on Sunday. Former World Judo Masters bronze medallist VAN T END, 25, competes for the first time since the Olympics and is a hot favourite to record a successful return. Abu Dhabi Grand Slam bronze medallist Nemanja MAJDOV (SRB) and Almaty Grand Prix bronze medallist Mammadali MEHDIYEV (AZE) should also be in contention for honours at the second Grand Slam of the year.

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) took over the IJF’s Instagram account on Tuesday and showed that he is in peak physical condition and is ready for domestic and international opposition on Sunday. The 26-year-old’s Rio result was wildly celebrated by all including former world champion Elkhan MAMMADOV (AZE) who was right behind his teammate despite losing to GASIMOV in his question for Olympic selection. Both Azeri stars will be imposing forces at home as judoka such as Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Michael KORREL (NED) and Dusseldorf winner Toma NIKIFOROV (BEL) will be gunning for glory.

Double Olympic bronze medallist Rafael SILVA (BRA) bids to follow up on his Paris Grand Slam bronze with another podium appearance in Azerbaijan. Man-mountain SILVA, 29, finished a lowly seventh in Baku last year and as the number one seed will settle for nothing less than a medal-winning display this time around. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist BOR Barna (HUN) showed middleweight conditioning as he won his fourth contest in Germany two weeks ago in the fifth minute of golden score and makes an immediate return to IJF World Judo Tour duty. Five-time Grand Slam medallist Roy MEYER (NED) has never won one of the IJF’s five showpiece Grand Slams but could have a serious crack on Sunday if he can keep some energy in reserve during the preliminary rounds.


13:00 Preliminaries on three mats
16:00 Opening ceremony
17:00 Final block on one mat
Women: -48kg, -52kg, -57kg
Men: -60kg, -66kg

13:00 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat
Women: -63kg, -70kg
Men: -73kg, -81kg

13:00 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat
Women: -78kg, +78kg
Men: -90kg, -100kg, +100kg

Location:  Heydar Aliyev Arena
Photos ©  IJF Media by Marina Mayorova