Thursday, May 12, 2016

Almaty Grand Prix 2016, Kazakhstan - PREVIEW

(Via IJF)

The Rio 2016 Olympic qualification race will take its most dramatic turn yet this weekend as hopefuls from around the world have to perform at the Almaty Grand Prix – the final open qualification event before the invite-only World Judo Masters – from Friday 13 – Sunday 15 May at the Sport Palace Baluan Sholak.  

Kazakhstan hosted the World Championships last year in Astana and the stakes are just as high this year as everything is on the line for the 399 judoka from the 84 nations who are present in Almaty. The Olympic qualification period ends after the World Judo Masters in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 27-29 May.

Only the top 16 judoka in each category will be invited to the World Judo Masters which offers the most qualification points after the World Championships. A World Judo Masters gold medallist would earn 700 points, a silver medallist would gain 420 points and a bronze medallist would scoop 280 points.

The official draw of the Almaty Grand Prix 2016

Due to the different competition programmes of nations and top-16 athletes potentially sitting out the Masters to avoid any risk of injury so close to the Games, the next athlete down on the ranking list will be invited until each category is full.

While many of the sport’s leading names have assured themselves of a place at Rio 2016, those next in line are battling to book their ticket to Rio 2016 this weekend while a handful of top-level judoka are here to fight their way into a top 8 and seeded place at the Olympics.

The draw took place on Thursday afternoon as the tension and nerves was palpable at the Rakhat Palace Hotel just 1km from the competition venue.

Mr. Obaid AL-ANZI, IJF Vice President, made the opening address on behalf of the International Judo Federation.

“Dear Mr. President, dear colleagues, guests and coaches, on behalf of the IJF President Mr. Marius VIZER, we are very pleased to be here in Almaty for the final open qualification event for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. We are grateful to the Kazakhstan Judo Federation for their support and desire to host this crucial competition before the Olympics. The Federation hosted an excellent edition of the World Championships last year and we are all looking forward to a tremendous competition this weekend.”

Mr. Marat MYKTYBEKOV, Kazakhstan Judo Federation Vice President, made the welcome address for the local organising committee.

Mr. MYKTYBEKOV said: “Dear guests, I wish you all a warm welcome to Kazakhstan for the Almaty Grand Prix. I hope the organisation level will be very high. I wish all of our guests an enjoyable and successful time in Almaty and I wish you all good luck.”

Mr. Juan CARLOS BARCOS, IJF Head Refereeing Director, said: “This is a hugely important competition as the last open Rio 2016 qualifier. We look forward to seeing the respect of judoka and coaches and everyone involved as we all show the values of our sport. I wish everyone a good competition.”

Coaches learn the fate of their charges during the draw

Mr. Mohamed MERIDJA, IJF Education and Coaching Director, said: “We all hope to see respect and honour during all three days of competition and the IJF team will be here at your disposal at all times. We are confident of a great event and wish you good luck.”

IJF Executive Committee members and their Kazakhstan Judo Federation counterparts 

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World number three Otgontsetseg GALBADRAKH (KAZ) has been a star performer for Kazakhstan since making her first appearance for the Asian nation at the World Championships 2015 in Astana. Poster girl GALBADRAKH, who won the Astana Grand Prix 2014 for Mongolia, could prove unstoppable in Almaty as she is on the verge of confirming a seeded position at her first Olympic Games. Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix winner Laetitia PAYET (FRA) should also be in medal contention on Friday. 


Baku Grand Slam winner Gili COHEN (ISR) jumps straight back into action after winning the second Grand Slam of the year in Azerbaijan last week. World number 13 COHEN wants to solidify her place on the ranking list and will face opposition from Samsun Grand Prix silver medallist Laura GOMEZ (ESP) and world number 15 MUNKHBAATAR Bundmaa (MGL). 


Olympic bronze medallist Automne PAVIA (FRA) is the top seed in the -57kg category as she bids to overtake teammate Helene RECEVEAUX (FRA). World number six RECEVEAUX is not in action in Almaty which puts pressure on world number eight PAVIA to deliver at the final open qualification event for Rio 2016. World number 18 Sanne VERHAGEN (NED) returned from a lengthy injury lay-off in April to reignite her Olympic dream and is a medal away from achieving that. 


World number 12 TSEND-AYUSH Tserennadmid (MGL) won bronze at the Asian Championships and will be expected to grace the medal podium as the top -63kg seed in Almaty. World number 21 Mia HERMANSSON (SWE) is currently qualified via the continental quota but everything is subject to change and the Swedish fighter can bolster her place with a medal-winning display on Saturday. 


World number 16 Katarzyna KLYS (POL) is currently qualified for the Olympics as there are judoka qualified from the same countries (Japan and France) above her and countries can only send one judoka per category. When the representatives of the same category are removed the Polish fighter would be in the top 14 which means she is right on the edge and needs a medal this weekend to confirm her place. Former cadet world champion Marie Eve GAHIE (FRA) is France’s third choice in the -70kg category but could upset the seasoned Rio 2016 hopefuls on Saturday. 


Olympic silver medallist Gemma GIBBONS (GBR) produced one of the greatest moments of the London 2012 Olympics. The Londoner is ranked 13th in the world which is a qualified position but is behind countrywoman Natalie POWELL (GBR) who is ranked eighth. Both are currently in position to be invited to the World Judo Masters in Mexico this month and it could come down to that stage to decide who goes to Rio. Daria POGORZELEC (POL) is ranked 15th in the world and is targeting a medal to retain her qualification position as there are judoka from the same country above the Polish judoka on the ranking list. 


Olympic champion Idalys ORTIZ (CUB) took seventh place in Baku last week and could be wearing her gold backpatch for the last time on the IJF World Judo Tour. World bronze medallist ORTIZ is part of a star-studded Cuban team who are all looking to remain active and face high-quality competition in the build-up to Rio. World number nine KIM Minjeong (KOR) looks safe but will aim for a strong performance leading into the Games while world number 14 Kayra SAYIT (TUR) won the European Championships in April. 



World silver medallist Rustam IBRAYEV (KAZ) is the top seed in the -60kg category in the absence of teammate and world champion Yeldos SMETOV (KAZ) who will be watching from the stands as he rests up aiming to peak at the Olympics. World number eight LUTFILLAEV Sharafuddin (UZB) has finished fifth at all three of his 2016 events and should better that on day one as one of the top seeds.   


Double Olympic bronze medallist and two-time world champion Rishod SOBIROV (UZB) is the top seed in the -66kg category. SOBIROV, 29, is ninth on the Olympic qualification list and is ready for one more tilt at an Olympic medal. Olympic champion Arsen GALSTYAN (RUS) was making a late bid to try and get the nod for Rio and to defend his title which seemed unthinkable until recently. European bronze medallist GALSTYAN is 20th on the Olympic Games qualification list and was entered in the competition and the draw but did not attend the weigh-in on Thursday evening and has been withdrawn. 


Georgia’s leading two judoka in the -73kg category Nugzari TATALASHVILI (GEO) and reigning -66kg Olympic champion Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) have both been selected for Almaty as the head selectors let the judoka determine their own fate going into the Olympics. TATALASHVILI is the number one seed in the category on Saturday and will look to increase the gap between the two before the Masters while Olympic bronze medallist SAINJARGAL Nyam-Ochir (MGL) is eying a medal to close in on a seeded place at the Olympics. 


Former world champion Loic PIETRI (FRA) makes his first start in 2016 in Almaty and will settle for nothing less than a place on the podium on his eagerly-awaited return to action. The 25-year-old needs competition time and could also be in action at the Masters later this month as a seeded Olympic berth is within his grasp despite his lengthy absence. Double Olympic bronze medallist Leandro GUILHEIRO (BRA) – who finished seventh at London 2012 – will fight while Japan’s Olympic back-up MARUYAMA Goki (JPN) of Tenri University will see action. 


Asian Championships winner Komronshokh USTOPIRIYON (TJK) is 11th on the Olympic qualification list and has arrived in Almaty as the top -90kg seed in a talent-laden field. The 23-year-old has been supported during this Olympic cycle by the International Judo Federation which has paved the way for his career to reach new heights and his first Olympic Games. Paralympic Games-bound Zviad GOGOTCHURI (GEO) is using the event as part of his programme going into Rio 2016 and the visually impaired judoka has a strong connection with the IJF World Judo Tour having fought at the Tbilisi Grand Prix in March. 


Former world silver medallist Jose ARMENTEROS (CUB) is 10th on the Olympic qualification list and has a top-eight place and a seeded berth in his sights for Rio 2016. Tbilisi Grand Prix silver medallist Javad MAHJOUB (IRI) adds quality to the division while the same can be said of Elkhan MAMMADOV (AZE) who is desperate to return to winning ways after losing his opening contest in Baku a week ago. 


African Championships winner Faicel JABALLAH (TUN) is the top seed in Sunday’s heavyweight category and is hoping that status will give him the springboard to fight his way onto the podium. Levani MATIASHVILI (GEO) and Adam OKRUASHVILI (GEO) are both here as they look to win the Almaty Grand Prix and edge closer to representing their country in Brazil this summer.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location: Sport Palace Baluan Sholak

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