Friday, March 25, 2016

Tbilisi Grand Prix 2016, Georgia PREVIEW

(Via IJF)

The IJF World Judo Tour stops in Tbilisi this weekend (Friday 25 - Sunday 27 March) for the third edition of the Tbilisi Grand Prix as the first part of a double header with Turkey’s Samsun Grand Prix set to follow next week in a crucial stage of the race for Rio 2016 Olympic qualification.

The Georgian leg of the tour was first staged in 2014 and continues to grow in stature as the country’s reputation in the thriving Olympic sport is among the most prestigious in judo. Tbilisi’s premier annual sports competition has moved to the New Sports Palace for 2016 which has state of art facilities and all the tickets have been snapped up in advance for all three days of Olympic qualification action.

Tbilisi has welcomed 395 judoka (231 men, 164 women) from 67 nations with Olympic qualification points at a premium with only four IJF events left after Georgia before the qualification process closes.  

The world-class field includes Georgia’s own Olympic champion Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) and Greek great Ilias ILIADIS (GRE) who originally hails from Georgia. World number one Kim POLLING (NED) will see action with former world champions GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL), Georgii ZANTARAIA (UKR) and Rafaela SILVA (BRA) all in action.

The official draw of the Tbilisi Grand Prix 2016 

Before Thursday afternoon’s draw all the delegations and officials observed a minute’s silence as the judo family showed their respects to those who lost their lives in the terrorist atrocity in Brussels on Tuesday.

The one minute’s silence was also to pay respects to two celebrated members of the judo family in French judo pioneer AWAZU Shozo along with New Zealand judo patron Harry O’ROURKE. Kyoto, Japan native AWAZU, 92, was one of the original French judo Federation masters having arrived in the country in 1950 from the Kodokan to develop the sport. Honorary Former New Zealand Judo Federation President O’ROURKE, 74, had a decorated and hugely significant career in the sport as President of the national federation for 21 years and was awarded accolades such as being a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his outstanding contributions to New Zealand in areas such as judo.

Mr. Vladimir BARTA (far right), IJF Head Sports Director, conducted the technical part of the draw
Mr. Mohamed MERIDJA, IJF Education and Coaching Director, made the opening address on behalf of the International Judo Federation.

“Dear Mr. President, Dear IJF Executive Committee members, dear judo friends, on behalf of the International Judo Federation, I would like to express my warmest welcome to all of our distinguished guests, officials, coaches and athletes to the capital city of Georgia on the occasion of the Tbilisi Grand Prix 2016,” said Mr. MERIDJA.

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

Mr. David KEVKHISHVILI, Georgian Judo Federation President, made the welcoming address on behalf of the hosts.

“Dear IJF Executive Committee members, officials, athletes, coaches, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to Georgia for our Grand Prix which is an honour to host and is a very important competition,” said the five-time European medallist.

“I would like to thank the IJF President Mr. Marius VIZER and his team for all the support and our organising team is working very hard to make this a successful event. I wish you all a successful competition.”

The stage was set for Mr. Tariel KHECHIKASHVILI, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs for Georgia, to make the closing remarks at the official draw as he paid tribute to the rich history of judo in Georgia.

Mr. KEVKHISHVILI (centre), Georgian Judo Federation President, and Mr. KHECHIKASHVILI (far right), Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs for Georgia, in discussion during the draw

“I would like to welcome the participants, honoured guests and everyone to Georgia. We are honoured and delighted to be hosting such a prestigious event and on behalf of the Georgian government I would like to thank the IJF and its President Mr. Marius VIZER for enabling us to host this Grand Prix for a third time.

“Together with the Georgian Judo Federation and the Georgian government we wish to stage the most successful judo event in Georgian history this weekend. Judo in Georgia is very popular and it is very important to pay attention not just to this generation of champions but also to the champions of the future. We are ready to host even bigger judo events in the future and a major championships. I am sure you will all be satisfied by this event and I wish the best of luck to you all.”

The Georgian Judo Federation concluded a successful day for the sport’s future in Georgia by signing a lucrative and record sponsorship deal with Zedazeni, a new Georgian drinks brand. The four-year deal is worth 1 million Georgian lari and was signed by Mr. David KEVKHISHVILI, Georgian Judo Federation President, in the presence of Mr. Tariel KHECHIKASHVILI, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs for Georgia. 

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GALBADRAKH Otgontsetseg (KAZ) is the form judoka in the -48kg category after winning the Paris Grand Slam and capturing silver at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix. The Kazakh fighter is now focused on not just qualifying for Rio 2016 but being among the top seeds when she arrives in Brazil. Two-time Grand Slam bronze medallist Taciana LIMA-BALDE (GSB) has the same goal as she closes in on becoming Guinea Bissau’s first Olympic judoka. Former Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Julia FIGUEROA (ESP) and Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix winner Laetitia PAYET (FRA) will also be among the leading medal hopes on day one. 


Three-time world medallist Erika MIRANDA (BRA) is the top seed in the -52kg category and could dominate for Brazil. Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist and world number 10 Gulbadam BABAMURATOVA (TKM) is a growing contender in the category while veteran Ilse HEYLEN (BEL) – who turned 39 on Tuesday – is routinely among the medals for Belgium. Distria KRASNIQI (IJF) reverts to -52kg duty after a short spell in the -48kg division and returns to being a very capable back-up to double world champion Majlinda KELMENDI (IJF). 


World silver medallist Corina CAPRIORIU (ROU) has not been among the medals since finishing second in Astana last year. The Romanian fighter has endured the longest barren run of her career after missing out on a place on the podium at her last five IJF events. London 2012 Olympic silver medallist CAPRIORIU can finally get back on track this weekend while Havana Grand Prix silver medallist KARAKAS Hedvig (HUN), Olympic bronze medallist Automne PAVIA (FRA) and former world champion Rafaela SILVA (BRA) will all have their own medal ambitions. 


World number 10 Kathrin UNTERWURZACHER (AUT) is the top seed in the -63kg category and the Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix bronze medallist will have a task on her hands to turn her billing into a medal in Tbilisi. Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Anicka VAN EMDEN (NED) and Tashkent Grand Prix winner Edwige GWEND (ITA) are two of the most talented judoka in the field while Dusseldorf Grand Prix runner-up Alice SCHLESINGER (GBR) is enjoying life in the British setup and is always a medal threat. 


World number one Kim POLLING (NED) competes on the Grand Prix stage for the first time in 2016 and will be intent on making an immediate appearance on the medal podium. POLLING finished seventh at the Paris Grand Slam in February and will need to have made improvements since then if she wishes to overcome rivals such as Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Laura VARGAS KOCH (GER). Bernadette GRAF (AUT) won the Dusseldorf Grand Prix last time out with a scintillating showing and will look to replicate that performance in Georgia while the hosts themselves will count on Tashkent Grand Prix silver medallist Esther STAM (GEO). 


Rio 2016 Olympic Games favourite Mayra AGUIAR (BRA) will compete for the second time this year as the Brazilian star is out to command the -78kg category in Tbilisi. The London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist and 2014 world champion won the Paris Grand Slam in February with a win over Olympic champion Kayla HARRISON (USA) in the final and in the absence of the American, AGUIAR will be prepared for challenges from judoka such as 2013 world champion SOL Kyong (PRK), Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Guusje STEENHUIS (NED) and Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Natalie POWELL (GBR). 


Paris Grand Slam silver medallist MA Sisi (CHN) is the number one seed in the women’s heavyweight category and requires a strong showing to keep alive her Rio 2016 bid with world champion and teammate YU Song (CHN) currently in pole position as the world number one. Only MA will be in action for China in the +78kg category and the world number two could benefit from being able to focus purely on her own performance as opposed to also following the round-by-round progress of her teammate. Double world silver medallist Maria Suelen ALTHEMAN (BRA) will be among the leading judoka aiming to derail MA on Sunday.  



Former world champion GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL) has not won a gold medal since winning his maiden world title in 2014 but with top seed status the Mongolian could be set for a fruitful showing in Tbilisi. Abu Dhabi Grand Slam winner Amiran PAPINASHVILI (GEO) has also struggled to achieve a level of consistency in the latter stage of this Olympic cycle and has the added motivation of finishing fifth at both previous editions of his home event. World silver medallist Rustam IBRAYEV (KAZ) and Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist DASHDAVAA Amartuvshin (MGL) are also among the judoka to keep tabs on in Friday’s -60kg category. 


World number three Georgii ZANTARAIA (UKR) is gearing up for what could be his final shot at an Olympic medal this summer. The five-time world medallist and former European champion, 28, would no doubt trade all of his medal collection for a first Olympic medal and makes his first start of 2016 in Tbilisi. Olympic champion Arsen GALSTYAN (RUS) will be hoping to give a performance worthy of his gold backpatch as only a fringe contender for a place at Rio 2016.  


Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist Nugzari TATALASHVILI (GEO) is the top seed in the -73kg category ahead of compatriot and -66kg Olympic champion Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO). The Georgian duo both won bronze medals a year ago and will be determined to improve on that result in 2016. Tashkent Grand Prix medallist HONG Kuk Hyon (PRK) is among the best international judoka looking to topple Georgia’s home judoka along with Havana Grand Prix bronze medallist GANBAATAR Odbayar (MGL). 


World number nine Ivaylo IVANOV (BUL) has been one of the late bloomers in this Olympic cycle and enters the Tbilisi Grand Prix as the top seed. IVANOV, 21, won the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam last year in his major breakthrough and has been on the podium twice in 2016 after taking silver at the Paris Grand Slam and then bronze at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix. Reigning Tbilisi Grand Prix winner Alan KHUBETSOV (RUS) cannot be overlooked while Georgian hopes will be led by Baku Grand Slam silver medallist Ushangi MARGIANI (GEO) in the absence of former world champion Avtandil TCHRIKISHVILI (GEO) who has been rested for this event.  


Abu Dhabi Grand Slam silver medallist Noel VAN T END (NED) is the fighter to beat in the -90kg category and will have Paris Grand Slam silver medallist Alexandre IDDIR (FRA) as one of his many challengers. Greek all-time great Ilias ILIADIS (GRE) will compete in his native Georgia while former world champion Tiago CAMILO (BRA), Sydney 2000 Olympic silver medallist and Beijing 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, is hopeful of a Rio 2016 swansong. Georgian talisman Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) has been left out of the team to rest with one eye on next month’s European Championships in Kazan, Russia. 


World Judo Masters winner Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) has arrived in Tbilisi as the top seed in the -100kg category and will have to be at his explosive best to win his first medal in 2016. GASIMOV last graced the IJF World Judo Tour medal podium in Japan as he won bronze at the Tokyo Grand Slam. Rio 2016 Olympic Games contender Adlan BISULTANOV (RUS) will look to catch the eye on Sunday with Olympic champion Tagir KHAIBULAEV (RUS) not part of the Russian team in Georgia. Much will be expected of Beka GVINIASHVILI (GEO) who won the -90kg category here last year and the youngster is more than capable of winning his first Grand Prix medal at his new weight on home soil.  


Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Roy MEYER (NED) and Olympic bronze medallist Rafael SILVA (BRA) will be among the favourites in Tbilisi on Sunday in the men’s heavyweight category. World bronze medallist Adam OKRUASHVILI (GEO) has form in his home event having won the inaugural edition in 2014 and took silver a year ago. Paris Grand Slam runner-up Or SASSON (ISR) will also be one to watch in the +100kg category as he looks certain to finish higher than his seventh place result from a year ago. 

10:30 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

10:30 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

10:30 Preliminaries on three mats
17:00 Final block on one mat

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

Location: New Sports Palace

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