IJF Ekaterinburg Grand Slam 2018, Russia – Preview

From International Judo Federation:

The IJF World Judo Tour 2018 has landed in Russia with Olympic and world champions among the stars on show at the third Grand Slam of the season, Ekaterinburg 2018.

Following two back-to-back Grand Slams in February (Paris and Düsseldorf) it is now the turn of Russia to host a two-day spectacle as the fascinating season is breaking new for the sport on television, online and in terms of its standing as a high-octane, pulse-pounding sport where any athlete is beatable.

The hosts’ fourth largest city, Ekaterinburg, delivered a Grand Slam for the first time last year and now an even stronger field of judoka have assembled to the east of the Ural Mountains for a crucial stop on the IJF World Judo Tour.

The draw took place on Friday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency hotel where it was revealed that 251 judoka (152 men, 99 women) will be in action from 34 countries.

Names such as Olympic champion Fabio BASILE (ITA), world champion Mayra AGUIAR (BRA), World Judo Masters winner Guram TUSHISHVILI (GEO), four-time world medallist Telma MONTEIRO (POR) and the returning three-time world champion EBINUMA Masashi (JPN) give an indication of the level of talent competing this weekend.

Armen BAGDASAROV, IJF Sport Director, spoke on behalf of judo’s world governing body.

“Hello everyone, it is a pleasure to see you here in Ekaterinburg, Russia, for the third Grand Slam of the year. We are very confident that it will be an excellent competition and hope that you will all support us to help achieve this. Good luck to you all this weekend.”

Valentin KHABIROV, Russian Judo Federation Vice President and Executive Director, spoke on behalf of the hosts.

“I warmly welcome you all to Ekaterinburg for this highly-important Grand Slam and I am very grateful to you all for coming. I would like to thank the IJF, the Governor, the local Federation and everyone involved in delivering this competition. I wish you all good luck.”

Judo fans are now waiting with bated breath for the latest Grand Slam supershow and there are compelling storylines in every weight category this weekend. Seven categories will be contested each day, moving from the lightest on day 1 to the heaviest on day 2, and while current stars may reconfirm their level there is also the chance for surprises and for newcomers to the IJF World Judo Tour to make a splash in Ekaterinburg.

The Ekaterinburg Grand Slam takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

Use #JudoRussia2018 to join in with the social media discussion

PREVIEW: WOMEN

-48kg

Rio 2016 Olympic champion Paula PARETO (ARG) has only one Grand Slam gold medal in her medal cabinet and that came back in 2012 at the now defunct Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam. PARETO, 32, who is an Athlete Role Model for the Youth Olympic Games in her homeland in October, has fought two times on the IJF World Judo Tour since winning the Olympic title with bronze medals to show for her outings at the Zagreb Grand Prix and Abu Dhabi Grand Slam events last year. Former World Judo Masters winner ENDO Hiromi (JPN) makes her first start of the year and needs to win remain in the plans of the Japanese selectors after finishing a lowly fifth at the Tokyo Grand Slam.

-52kg

Four-time Grand Slam winner Erika MIRANDA (BRA) starts as the top seed in Russia. World number one MIRANDA, 30, finished fifth at the Düsseldorf Grand Slam in February and will surely bounce back on Saturday with a place on the podium. World Judo Masters winner Natalia KUZIUTINA (RUS) opens her season at home as the favourite in the -52kg category. KUZIUTINA, 28, has won eight Grand Slam medals but only once has emerged victorious and that was almost a decade ago when the Russian team stalwart broke through with a fine win at the Paris Grand Slam in 2009. Tokyo Grand Slam silver medallist TATSUKAWA Rina (JPN) makes her international debut for Japan on the IJF World Judo Tour while -48kg star MUNKHBAT Urantsetseg (MGL) comes into the -52kg category just for this event. Alexandra-Larisa FLORIAN (ROU) was her country’s best performer last year and will need to keep that going with three-time world silver medallist Andreea CHITU (ROU) set to return soon with talk of retirement proving premature.

-57kg

World champion DORJSUREN Sumiya (MGL) is unbeaten since winning her first world title last year and is on a 14-0 winning streak on the IJF World Judo Tour. DORJSUREN won the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the World Judo Masters, for an unprecedented fourth time, to close out 2017 and wears her red backpatch for the first time in 2018 in Ekaterinburg. Olympic bronze medallist and three-time world silver medallist Telma MONTEIRO (POR) will be bidding for her first medal of the year which will also spur on three-time Grand Prix winner TAMAOKI Momo (JPN). Baku Grand Slam winner LIEN Chen-Ling (TPE) will be looking for a fifth Grand Slam medal while teenager LKHAGVATOGOO Enkhriilen (MGL) won bronze at the Düsseldorf Grand Slam last time out and will be worth tracking in Russia.

-63kg

World bronze medallist BALDORJ Mungunchimeg (MGL) could come into the medal equation for Mongolia at -63kg and European Games winner Martyna TRAJDOS (GER) will be aiming to make up for lost time having missed her home Grand Slam through sickness last month. Former Tyumen Grand Slam winner NOUCHI Aimi (JPN) and Düsseldorf winner Andreja LESKI (SLO) could both feature heavily on day one.

-70kg

World number two Maria PORTELA (BRA) achieved the best result of her career last time out when she unexpectedly won the World Judo Masters in December. The 30-year-old has made her first trip of 2018 to take on a new set of opponents in Russia this time and will now have the respect of the entire field in Ekaterinburg. World Judo Masters silver medallist Barbara MATIC (CRO) also competes for the first time this year when she starts as one of the top seeds this weekend. MATIC, 23, is already a 10-time Grand Prix medallist and is expected to register in the Grand Slam medal column at the Palace of Sports despite the presence of Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist TANAKA Shiho (JPN) who travels to her first IJF World Judo Tour event outside of Japan.

-78kg

World number two Mayra AGUIAR (BRA) has endured a mixed run of results since becoming a two-time world champion. The double Olympic bronze medallist took bronze at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, finished seventh at the World Judo Masters and has started her 2018 campaign with silver in Düsseldorf. AGUIAR has actually won more world titles, Grand Slam titles and Masters crowns than Grand Prix gold with a return of one Grand Prix title which came last year in Cancun, Mexico. AGUIAR is a heavy favourite for -78kg Grand Slam gold on day two.

+78kg

World Judo Masters bronze medallist Larisa CERIC (BIH) is the top seed in the women’s category and can lay claim to being Europe’s top female judoka in the heavyweight category. Double world silver medallist Maria Suelen ALTHEMAN (BRA) missed the podium in Düsseldorf in February and will be focused on returning the podium in Russia on the last day of the Ekaterinburg Grand Slam.

PREVIEW: MEN

-60kg

Former world champion Yeldos SMETOV (KAZ) reappears on the circuit on Saturday for the first time since his seventh-place at the Worlds last August. The 25-year-old, who was the shock winner of the -60kg world title on Kazakh soil in Astana in 2015, has not won gold on the IJF World Judo Tour since with only a handful of starts under his belt but his inclusion will inspire his teammates in Russia and he warmly welcomed by his adoring fans back in Central Asia. World number five Amiran PAPINASHVILI (GEO) is the number one seed in the -60kg category and could go all the way for Georgia which is the next destination on the IJF World Judo Tour. The 12-time Grand Prix medallist will be joined in action by Düsseldorf Grand Slam bronze medallist Eric TAKABATAKE (BRA) and Tunis Grand Prix winner Walide KHYAR (FRA).

-66kg

World champion ABE Hifumi (JPN) is in a league of his own on the road to Tokyo 2020. The 20-year-old has won his last six events and is unbeaten since 2015. ABE, whose winning streak extends to 28 contests, has only lost to one judoka on the IJF World Judo Tour in DAVAADORJ Tumurkhuleg who beat the Japanese prodigy twice in 2015. Judo fans are excited to see the -66kg flyer in action for the first time in 2018 and he is prepared for any potential adversary. World number nine Abdula ABDULZHALILOV (RUS) is the defending -66kg winner from last year and his fellow finalist Charles CHIBANA (BRA) returns again to Russia for the third Grand Slam of the season. Agadir Grand Prix winner Adrian GOMBOC (SLO) starred a week ago in Morocco and could come into the medal equation while The Hague Grand Prix winner YONDONPERENLEI Baskhuu (MGL) is fast becoming his country’s go-to man in the -66kg category.

-73kg

Three-time world champion and double Olympic bronze medallist EBINUMA Masashi (JPN) is back! The Japanese great, 28, who has been a household name in the -66kg category for the best part of a decade, returns at a new weight category after 18 months in the wilderness. Since winning bronze at Rio 2016 EBINUMA has been usurped by ABE who initially began to make his name in Japan by beating the former as a teenager in domestic competitions. EBINUMA was elected as a new member of the IJF Athlete’s Commission last year and spoke of his desire to try out the next weight class up and here he is to the delight of his supporters. Olympic champion Fabio BASILE (ITA) has already made the same move up and has found results hard to come by. The Italian and the Japanese are both unseeded on day one. Tunis Grand Prix winner Zhansay SMAGULOV (KAZ) may not be afforded his dues as the top seed in Ekaterinburg with some aforementioned superstar company in the category but has the quality to find a route to what would be his first Grand Slam medal podium.

-81kg

World number one Frank DE WIT (NED) started his season with bronze in Paris in February and seems to edging closer to standing on the highest platform of an IJF medal podium for the first time in 2018. The 22-year-old, who won the Paris Grand Slam last year and the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in October, will surely improve on his fifth-place from the first edition of the Ekaterinburg Grand Slam. Düsseldorf Grand Slam winner Saeid MOLLAEI (IRI) will be targeting back-to-back Grand Slam titles for the first time in his career while Zebeda REKHVIASHVILI (GEO) will be looking to at least repeat his 2017 Ekaterinburg bronze medal result. Teenager FUJIWARA Sotaro (JPN) won the Paris Grand Slam in February in his first start outside of Japan on the IJF World Judo Tour and there will be a lot of excitement to see the youngster back in action.

-90kg

World number one Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB) will be keen to make a big impression in his first competition of the year and needs to be amongst the medals to tighten his control of the summit of the -90kg category. KUKOLJ, 26, finished fifth at the Masters last time out and will be ready to start over in 2018 with new goals and a new desire. Former world silver medallist TOTH Krisztian (HUN) began the IJF World Judo Tour 2018 with a silver medal at the Tunis Grand Prix and will be pushing for gold this Sunday as the world number four bids to close the gap on KUKOLJ. Düsseldorf Grand Slam bronze medallist GANTULGA Altanbagana (MGL) is a welcome inclusion for Mongolia who will be a major medal threat all weekend long.

-100kg

Paris Grand Slam winner Michael KORREL (NED) powered to glory in the French capital in February and will command the most attention in the -100kg category as the world number one. The 24-year-old has medalled at this last four IJF events and will be looking to continue building momentum with the Olympic qualification period set to begin in May. World Judo Masters bronze medallist CIRJENICS Miklos (HUN) earned the attention of his peers with a string of top displays to end 2017 on a high while Openweight World silver medallist Toma NIKIFOROV (BEL) aims to take his first medal of the year back home to Belgium. Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Cyrille MARET (FRA) is a 13-time Grand Slam medallist and should add to that haul on Sunday. Unseeded LKHAGVASUREN Otgonbaatar (MGL) is still searching for his first medal since stepping up from -90kg to -100kg in 2017 and could prove to be a major threat for the top seeds in Ekaterinburg.

+100kg

World number one David MOURA (BRA) took silver at the World Judo Masters in December and leads the heavyweight field into action on Sunday as the world number one. World silver medallist MOURA, 30, has medalled at his last six IJF events and can lay down a marker here for the season if he can win convincingly. World Judo Masters winner Guram TUSHISHVILI (GEO) finished fifth at the Paris Grand Slam after being disqualified in the preliminary rounds and will be determined to bounce back with a stirring display in Russia. The 22-year-old, who is ranked second in the world, will be confident of earning a second Grand Slam title after winning in Baku last year. Double Olympic bronze medallist Rafael SILVA (BRA) could be in contention for Brazil with The Hague Grand Prix Roy MEYER (NED) and teenager Stephan HEGYI (AUT) shoring up a strong heavyweight category.

PROGRAMME

Saturday 17 March
Preliminary rounds – 11:00
Final Block – 17:00

Sunday 18 March
Preliminary rounds – 11:00
Final Block – 17:00