Saturday, June 7, 2014

Judo Grand Prix, Havana 2014 - PREVIEW

The first Havana Grand Prix in Cuba is the idyllic destination for the first IJF event which carries qualification points for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 


The three-day Grand Prix at the Sport City Coliseum follows the Madrid European Open which officially launched the two-year qualifying campaign last weekend.

Since London 2012 many of the medallists have taken a much-needed break to rest their bodies and mind and to set new goals. New contenders have tested their mettle in different weight categories and some have switched nations all with the same goal in mind. Young judoka blessed with talent have burst onto the scene and, with statistics showing that Olympic judo medallists tend to win gold in their first Olympics, will be significant factors when the gruelling quest for qualification leads to the Barra’s newly-built Olympic Hall 2 in Rio de Janeiro.

The Havana Grand Prix establishes the Pan American leg of the World Judo Tour after Miami hosted America’s first Grand Prix last year. The Grand Prix will continue to alternate between the two cities in 2015 and 2016 as the Olympic Games looms large.  

Judo has long been of the Cuba’s most successful Olympic sports and the competition is one of the most important sporting events ever hosted in Cuba. Cuba’s rich tradition in judo has created stars and champions such as Olympic and world champion Idalys ORTIZ and Olympic silver medallist Asley GONZALEZ who is also a reigning world champion.

The first Havana Grand Prix which will showcase 297 judoka from 40 countries. 154 men and 143 will compete and they discovered their opposition on Thursday as the draw took place at Hotel Melia.

The Official Draw of the Judo Grand Prix, Havana 2014

Mr. Marius VIZER, IJF President, made the welcoming address.

“Dear officials, dear guests, ladies and gentleman, dear colleagues, dear friends, Mr. President, dear special guests, I welcome you to Havana, it is a privilege to organise the first IJF Grand Prix in Cuba,” said Mr. VIZER.

“We also have the honour to have special guest Mr. Ed HULA, founder and editor of Around The Rings and his wife Mrs. Sheila HULA, and I thank them for supporting international sport and the Olympic movement.

Special guests Mr. Ed HULA and his wife Mrs. Sheila HULA

“I want to think the Minister of Sport, the President of Olympic Committee and all staff which will deliver this event. The IJF made serious financial investment to organise this event here and thanks to the work of the organisers things have been very positive.

“Cuban’s have a big heart, a big affinity with judo and will compensate for any lack of infrastructure with their heart and passion. It is very important for the IJF to have a Grand Prix in Pan America and together with Grand Prix from Miami we can contribute a lot to the development of judo in the region.

“Starting with Olympic qualification we will be even stricter with the accreditation of athletes for future tournaments. All of you together with your federation have to follow the deadlines for the inscription of your athletes. Thank you all for your solidarity and attending the Grand Prix in Cuba and thank you for the interest from your federation. I wish you all success and a nice stay at the Grand Prix in Cuba. I hope our guests enjoy the high level of judo and Havana.”

Mr. Christian JIMENEZ MOLINA, President of Cuba's National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), said: “On behalf of the Cuban Government and the Cuban Ministry of Sport, I want to say a big thank you for trusting us with this Grand Prix in Havana. We hope all the delegations will not only succeed in Cuba but have a pleasant stay. This event is a milestone in history of sport in Cuba and we hope we can achieve the standard that the International Judo Federation deserves.”

The Official Press Conference for the Judo Grand Prix, Havana 2014
From L-R: Roberto LEON RICHARDS, Mr. Rafael J. Manso REYES, Mr. Christian JIMENEZ MOLINA, Mr. Marius VIZER, Mr. Vladimir BARTA 

Mr. Roberto LEON RICHARDS, Vice President of the Cuban Olympic Committee, said: “I would like to say thank you very much to Mr. VIZER and the International Judo Federation, we were aware from the start how important this event is and our own limitations. We are encouraged that the IJF had trust in us and together with the Cuban enthusiasm and support we will achieve our goals at this event. The competition will represent a success for the world sport movement.”

Mr. Rafael J. Manso REYES, Cuban Judo Federation President, said: “Dear Mr. President Marius VIZER, ladies and gentlemen on behalf of the Cuban Judo Federation I thank you for being here. It is a great honour to host the Havana Grand Prix in 2014. On behalf of the Cuban Government we give you the warmest welcome and we hope you will feel in Havana like you are at home.”

Mr. VIZER also used the occasion of the draw and the press conference for the first Havana Grand Prix to introduce an initiative to further reward the outstanding judoka on the World Judo Tour.  

“According to the success of your work and universality of your period we saw 135 nations qualify for judo at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“We will now introduce an additional ranking list called the Prestige Ranking List. There will be one ranking list for men and one for women and all weight categories will be included. At the end of the year the best athlete from the men and women’s lists will be significantly rewarded along with their coaches.  

“I would like to add that this event can show a good model of how a national federation works with an International Federation and will be an example of other sports here in Cuba. The Havana Grand Prix will contribute benefits of the sport in the world but also in the local society.”




Olympic champion Sarah MENEZES (BRA) recently lost her world number one ranking to world champion MUNKHBAT Urantsetseg (MGL) due to her relative inactivity on the World Judo Tour. The Brazilian ace followed her 2013 World bronze with the same colour medal at the Tokyo Grand Slam and silver at the Pan American Championships. With MUNKHBAT absent, MENEZES will expect world-class opposition from fighters such as European bronze medallist Kristina RUMYANTSEVA (RUS), home standouts Dayaris MESTRE ALVAREZ and Maria Celia LABORDE, Dusseldorf Grand Prix winner WU Shugen (CHN) and Junior world champion Irina DOLGOVA (RUS). 


World number two Erika MIRANDA (BRA), who turned 27 on Wednesday, will be the top seed in the -52kg category. MIRANDA won a career-best world silver medal on home soil in Rio last year and could well be one of the favourites at the Rio Olympics as a home judoka coming into the peak of her career. European silver medallist Natalia KUZIUTINA (RUS) will be aiming for top spot in Havana along with French sensation Amandine BUCHARD (FRA), 18, who also took silver at the European Championships which was the first major medal of her career. The teenager moves up from the -48kg category to see action in the -52kg field alongside teammate and Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla GNETO (FRA).


World number one Miryam ROPER (GER) leads the 30-strong field in Havana and is set to make a statement as she aims to tighten her grasp on top spot and remain there for the duration of the qualification campaign. ROPER, who turns 32 at the end of June, took silver at the European Championships and has matured into one of the most consistent forces in judo after making her senior debut for Germany at the age of 22. Olympic bronze medallist Marti MALLOY (USA) has showcased her renowned ability on ever stage with aplomb and made good on her promise to be a world and Olympic medallist when the qualification campaign for London started in 2010. The tireless American will be joined in action by stars such as European champion Automne PAVIA (FRA) - who shared the medal podium in London with MALLOY as the second bronze medallist – and the ever-reliable Sabrina FILZMOSER (AUT).


World champion and world number one Yarden GERBI (ISR) is exactly where she wants to be as the Rio cycle begins while world number two and European champion Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA) continues to keep pace with her rival and friend. London 2012 was too soon for both GERBI and AGBEGNENOU but they are two of the judoka who have made waves since then and look destined for an Olympic berth in Brazil. Baku Grand Slam silver medallist Kathrin UNTERWURZACHER (AUT) will also compete.


World number two and world silver medallist Laura VARGAS KOCH (GER) is part of German team replete with top-ranked judoka. European silver medallist VARGAS KOCH, 23, already has medals at the continental and world level and her next quest is to add Olympic honours. Former world number one Kelita ZUPANCIC (CAN) took a silver medal at the Pan American Championships in April and, ranked fourth in the world, is well-placed as the road to Rio begins. Miami Grand Prix silver medallist Onix CORTES ALDAMA (CUB), Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Lior WILDIKAN (ISR) and European bronze medallist Barbara MATIC (CRO) add further quality to a category brimming with talent. 


Olympic champion Kayla HARRISON (USA) makes a timely and eagerly-awaited return to action in Havana as she starts her bid to defend her title in Brazil. HARRISON returns from a year-long injury lay-off as part of a formidable American team. World number one and European champion Audrey TCHEUMEO (FRA) is the foremost judoka in the -78kg category as France enters a seven-strong women’s team in Cuba. Samsun Grand Prix winner Luise MALZAHN (GER) and Pan American Championships silver medallist Catherine ROBERGE (CAN) have the skills to break out of the pack and start their Rio 2016 qualification campaign in a winning fashion. 


Olympic and world champion Idalys ORTIZ (CUB) is also the world number one and will receive a hero’s welcome when she launches her bid for Rio on Sunday. Havana Grand Prix poster girl ORTIZ will savour the atmosphere and competing on the IJF stage in her homeland for the first time as the reigning kingpin the women’s heavyweight judo. European champion Emilie ANDEOL (FRA) will be battling to outperform her Cuban rival who will be joined by cadet world champion Gusmary GARCIA SAVIGNE (CUB). 

The IJF staged a successful development activity ahead of the draw in Central Habana at Equipo de Judo. Stay tuned for pictures and the press release at



World number two and European silver medallist Amiran PAPINASHVILI (GEO) is the top seed in the men’s lightest category in Havana. PAPINASHVILI and his Georgian colleagues are poised to remain in contention for the long haul while Miami Grand Prix silver medallist Eric TAKABATAKE and Tashkent Grand Prix bronze medallist Diego SANTOS (both BRA) will be confident of a return to Grand Prix success. 


Paris Grand Slam winner Mikhail PULYAEV (RUS) won bronze at the European Championships and will be a leading threat in the -66kg category which also houses compatriot and former European champion Alim GADANOV (RUS). Former world silver medallist Sugoi URIARTE (SPA) has unfished business on the Olympic stage having finished in fifth-place and will the vastly-experienced will hope an encouraging result in Havana will kickstart his bid for one more tilt at the Olympics.  


World number two Dirk VAN TICHELT (BEL) is the man beat in the -73kg category in Havana. The top seed will be challenged by Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Musa MOGUSHKOV (RUS) and the explosive Sagi MUKI (ISR) who spectacularly won the Baku Grand Slam in May while 33-year-old double world silver medallist Leandro CUNHA (BRA) has an outing at -73kg.   


World number one and world silver medallist Avtandili TCHRIKISHVILI (GEO) will battle in some prestigious company as the talent-laden category promises to deliver some highlight reel ippons. World number five Travis STEVENS (USA) was one of the most memorable performers in London and the lasting impression he left in the English capital invested fans the world around in his career which is surging forward in 2014. Olympic bronze medallist Ivan NIFONTOV (RUS), who turns 26 today, is in Cuba along with the man he stood next to on the podium in London, the second -81kg bronze medallist, Antoine VALOIS-FORTIER (CAN) while Pan American champion and world number four Victor PENALBER (BRA) also sees action. 


World number one and world runner-up Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) will be hoping to spoil the homecoming of the man who defeated him in the world final, Asley GONZALEZ (CUB), who took silver in London. Tiago CAMILO (BRA) returns to action with one more Olympics in his sight. CAMILO took silver at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and won bronze in Beijing 2008 before an agonising fifth-place finish in London. European silver medallist Kirill VOPROSOV (RUS) and Junior world champion Beka GVINIASHVILI (GEO) who won bronze at the Baku Grand Slam will also fight for honours. 


World number one and European champion Lukas KRPALEK (CZE) looks set to commit to a qualifying campaign in the -100kg category where he’s enjoyed no end of success over the last year. KRPALEK jumped up the heavyweight field at the Prague European Open to win gold in his homeland but resumes normal duty at the lighter weight in Havana. Jeju Grand Prix bronze medallist Martin PACEK (SWE) and two-time Pan American champion Hugo PESSANHA (BRA) will be among the medal hopefuls.  


Home favourite Oscar BRAYSON (CUB) will be the most popular male heavyweight at the City Sport Coliseum on Sunday. The Beijing Olympic bronze medallist, 29, finished seventh in London and will receive a serious test of his credentials when he meets some of the most active and accomplished figures on the heavyweight scene. European silver medallist Adam OKRUASHVILI (GEO) and Samsun Grand Prix bronze medallist Levani MATIASHVILI (GEO) will be a factor in the medal outcome along with Baku Grand Slam bronze medallist Renat SAIDOV (RUS). 

09:00 Preliminaries on two tatami
16:30 Opening ceremony
17:00 Final block on one tatami

Women: -48kg, -52kg, -57kg 
Men: -60kg, -66kg 

10:00 Preliminaries on two tatami
17:00 Final block on one tatami

Women: -63kg, -70kg
Men: -73kg, -81kg

10:00 Preliminaries on two tatami
17:00 Final block on one tatami

Women: -78kg, +78kg
Men: -90kg, -100kg, +100kg

Location: Sport City Coliseum

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