Thursday, May 7, 2015

Baku Grand Slam 2015 - PREVIEW

(Via IJF)


The first Grand Slam of the IJF World Judo Tour 2015 is all set as Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku hosts one of Olympic sport’s flagship events at the Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Centre from Friday 8 – Sunday 10 May.


The ever-changing city is set to stage the first European Games in June with over 6,000 athletes arriving to compete in 20 sports including judo which will no doubt be one of the leading attractions.  

While Europe’s finest will look forward to a swift return to Baku, the world’s leading nations are here this weekend to take one more step towards qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The IJF World Judo Tour has visited Dusseldorf (Germany), Tbilisi (Georgia), Samsun (Turkey) and last weekend Zagreb (Croatia) so far for Grand Prix events already this year and for the first time Baku is organising the first Grand Slam of the Year. The four remaining Grand Slams will be held in Tyumen (Russia), Paris (France), Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Tokyo (Japan). 


The Official Draw of the Baku Grand Slam 2015, Azerbaijan

Paris traditionally hosts the first Grand Slam of the year but the Palais Omnisport de Paris Bercy is being renovated and will now take centre stage in October. The second Grand Slam of the year will take place in Tyumen in July.  

A Grand Slam offers 500 World Ranking List points, silver is worth 300 and bronze earns 100 points. A total prize fund of $154,000 will be divided between the medallists and their coaches with all 14 gold medallists scooping $4,000 and $1,000 for their coach. Silver medallists will earn $2,400 with $600 for their coach and bronze medallists will receive $1,200 with $300 for their coach.  

Before the draw, there was a special Facebook Question and Answer session with Beijing 2008 Olympic champion and Azerbaijan Judo Federation Vice President Elnur MAMMADLI.

MAMMADLI said: “It was a pleasure to speak to judo fans around the world. I can’t meet all judoka and fans so this was a good way to communicate with people from many different countries. If you think about it it’s also a chance to connect elite level judo with the grassroots level of the sport. Thank you to everyone for the questions and I hope you all enjoy the Baku Grand Slam 2015.” 


Click here to read the Facebook Q&A

The official draw took place at the Park Inn on Thursday afternoon as the delegations gathered for the first official business of the Baku Grand Slam.

Mr. Vladimir BARTA, IJF Head Sports Director, revealed that 356 judoka will compete from 48 nations including a 35-strong team from hosts Azerbaijan.


From L-R: Mr. Daniel LASCAU, IJF Sports Director, Mr. Vladimir BARTA, IJF Head Sports Director, Mr. Bernd ACHILLES, IJF Referee Director  

Mr. BARTA said: “I would like to welcome everyone to Baku for the first Grand Slam of the year. This is the last event before a very important competition, the World Judo Masters event, in Rabat, Morocco later this month where only the world’s top 16 judoka in each category will be invited.  

“Baku is also preparing for the first European Games and it’s a city that is changing every single day," added Mr. BARTA. "I wish everyone in Baku a lot of success for this big responsibility. On behalf of the IJF President Mr. Marius VIZER I would like to thank the Azerbaijan Judo Federation for hosting this Grand Slam and I wish you all a lot of success.”

Mr. Matvey YELIZAROV, Azerbaijan Judo Federation Vice President, said: “Dear friends, on behalf of the Azerbaijan Judo Federation, I would like to welcome you all to Azerbaijan. Today is very important for us at is it is really the start of the tournament for us as organisers. I wish you all good luck and thank you for your participation.”


From L-R: Mr. Elnur JAMALKHANOV, AJF General Secretary and Mr. Matvey YELIZAROV, AJF Vice President 

Click here to view the ongoing Olympic qualification list 


FOLLOW THE COMPETITION
IJF President on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mariusvizer
Official event hash tag:
#JudoBaku2015Judobase: http://www.judobase.org Instagram: http://instagram.com/judogallery
YouTube:
 http://www.youtube.com/judo 


WOMEN

-48kg

Olympic bronze medallist Eva CSERNOVICZKI (HUN) is yet to open her medal account in 2015 after a fifth-place finish at the Tbilisi Grand Prix in March. The world number five is the top seed in the lightest weight category of the competition which will feature on Friday’s schedule. Zagreb Grand Prix winner Dilara LOKMANHEKIM (TUR) was studying videos of potential opponents at the hotel on Thursday while Dusseldorf Grand Prix winner and the second Olympic bronze medallist from London, Charline VAN SNICK (BEL), will be among the favourites. 

-52kg

Zagreb Grand Prix winner CHITU Andreea (ROU) is the top seed in the -52kg category. The Romanian standout is still some way behind world leader and world champion Majlinda KELMENDI (KOS) but can make serious ground this weekend by winning gold and with it 500 invaluable world ranking points. World number three Erika MIRANDA (BRA) won the Pan American Championships in April and will be determined to make an impression on the Grand Slam stage. 

-57kg

Brazil’s first female world champion Rafaela SILVA (BRA) won gold on her one and only appearance on the IJF World Judo Tour this year when she topped the podium at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix. The 23-year-old, who is a product of Flavio Canto’s Reação Institute, will be challenged by judoka such as Zagreb Grand Prix winner Nekoda SMYTHE-DAVIS (GBR). 

Nekoda SMYTHE-DAVIS (GBR) said: “It's my first time here in Baku so I am excited for a new challenge, I am yet to achieve a result at the Grand Slam level so to do so on Friday would be a great addition to my medal from last week in Zagreb. I'm not going to put pressure on myself though, just take it fight-by-fight and focus mainly on my tactics and technique and not the result.”

-63kg

Samsun Grand Prix winner Anicka VAN EMDEN (NED) withdrew from the Zagreb Grand Prix a week ago due to sickness and is ready to return to action in Baku. The double world bronze medallist is the top seed in the category as the world number four and can expect to be challenged by near rivals such as Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Martyna TRAJDOS (GER) and world number five Kathrin UNTERWURZACHER (AUT) who took silver here a year ago.  

Anicka VAN EMDEN (NED) said: “Last weekend I had a cold and did not feel fit enough to compete. Now I'm feeling ok, I’m not at my peak form yet but I'm excited to compete and give it my best in the first Grand Slam of the year.” 

-70kg

World number one Kim POLLING (NED) makes her first appearance on the IJF World Judo Tour this year at the Baku Grand Slam having won gold here in 2014. POLLING finished fifth at the World Championships last year and last fought on the IJF stage at the Tokyo Grand Slam in December. Zagreb Grand Prix silver medallist Sally CONWAY (GBR) will be aiming to avenge her 2014 final loss to POLLING at some stage in Baku while a medal bid can also be expected from world bronze medallist Katarzyna KLYS (POL). 

-78kg

Olympic champion Kayla HARRISON (USA) leads the -78kg field into action on Sunday. The American has won her last IJF three events including the last Grand Slam in Tokyo and will be hotly-tipped to make it four wins in a row on the final day in Baku. Samsun Grand Prix silver medallist Natalie POWELL (GBR) and Budapest Grand Prix winner Marhinde VERKERK (NED) both missed out on silverware in Zagreb which will add to their desire for honours this weekend. 

+78kg

Zagreb Grand Prix bronze medallist Jasmin KUELBS (GER) is the fighter to beat in the women’s heavyweight category. The world number 10 will be joined in action by Zagreb Grand Prix winner Belkis Zehra KAYA (TUR) while Pan American Championships runner-up Rochele NUNES (BRA) still harbours Rio 2016 ambitions.

Rochele NUNES (BRA) said: “I’m feeling good and looking forward to fighting on Sunday at the first Grand Slam of 2015.” 


MEN

-60kg

World champion GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL) is yet to win a medal at an IJF event since being crowned world champion last August. GANBAT did not place at the season-opening Dusseldorf Grand Prix but can get back on track on Friday. World bronze medallist Amiran PAPINASHVILI (GEO) could strike for Georgia but home hopes will be pinned on world number three Orkhan SAFAROV (AZE).   

-66kg

World number seven Colin OATES (GBR) produced a career-best result in Baku last year as he won his first Grand Slam title. The 31-year-old is the top seed in the -66kg category which also contains Zagreb Grand Prix bronze medallist Golan POLLACK (ISR) and French duo Loic KORVAL (FRA) and David LAROSE (FRA) who are all seeded. 

-73kg

World number five Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) has been a revelation in 2015 after winning back-to-back Grand Prix in Tbilisi and Samsun. The home judoka took bronze in his homeland last year and should at least match that this time around. Zagreb Grand Prix silver medallist and Mongolian legend KHASHBAATAR Tsagaanbaatar (MGL) will try to satisfy his insatiable appetite for competition on Saturday while his countryman SAINJARGAL Nyam-Ochir (MGL) desperately needs to return to winning ways.   

Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) said: “I am from Baku and I live in Baku so this Grand Slam means so much to me. I feel good, I am setting everything up to achieve my aim and that is the gold medal.”

-81kg

Pan American Championships bronze medallist Travis STEVENS (USA) is the top seed in the -81kg category. The world number seven has been blighted by injuries in 2015 and having misfired last weekend in Croatia will expect to be in the medal shake-up on Saturday. Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Leandro GUILHEIRO (BRA) is still trying to rediscover past glories and make himself a factor in the -81kg category.

Leandro GUILHEIRO (BRA) said: “I feel good. I've been training very hard and I know I'll find my judo again. It's a matter of time. Maybe this time will come in Baku.”

-90kg

Samsun Grand Prix winner Noel VAN T END (NED) is the leading man at least on paper in the -90kg category. The top seed lacked his usual potency last weekend in Zagreb and will face stiff opposition from judoka such as 20-year-old All Japan Championships winner BAKER Mashu (JPN) and reigning Baku Grand Slam gold medallist Guillaume ELMONT (NED).

BAKER Mashu (JPN) said: “I’m looking forward to it. I feel good, my weight is good. I think there’s going to be a lot of great fights.” 
  

-100kg

World number two Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) won both the Tbilisi and Samsun Grand Prix in consecutive weeks and needs no extra motivation on home soil on Sunday. Former World Judo Masters bronze medallist GASIMOV, 24, will be in the hunt for glory along with Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Henk GROL (NED) and veteran teammate Elkhan MAMMADOV (AZE). Rising Portuguese fighter Jorge FONSECA (POR) caught the eye in Zagreb as he won bronze and knows the next step is to win Grand Slam honours.

Jorge FONSECA (POR) said: “I'm feeling very well after Zagreb. I feel physically and mentally well prepared and very confident to fight for a medal in Baku.”

+100kg

World number four Adam OKRUASHVILI (GEO) and Tbilisi Grand Prix winner Levani MATIASHVILI (GEO) both see action in the heavyweight category on the third final day. World number seven MATIASHVILI, 21, defeated OKRUASHVILI, 26, in the Tbilisi Grand Prix final and could make another statement in Baku. World number 11 Daniel NATEA (ROU) and Zagreb Grand Prix bronze medallist Roy MEYER (NED) will also be confident of earning a place on the final medal podium of the Baku Grand Slam. 

COMPETITION PROGRAMME

Friday

11:00 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

Saturday

10:00 Preliminaries on three mats
16:00 Opening ceremony 
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

Sunday

11:00 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

Location: Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Centre

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