Thursday, May 5, 2016

Baku Grand Slam 2016, Azerbaijan PREVIEW

Judo’s road to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is set to reach a decisive phase this weekend as the final Grand Slam in the Olympic qualification campaign will feature Olympic and world champions from Friday 6 – Sunday 8 May at the Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex.

The second Grand Slam of the season – following February’s blockbuster in Paris – is the hottest ticket in town as every session on all three days of competition is sold out with the home crowd desperate to see their compatriots succeed at home before representing their country at The Greatest Show on Earth in August.

Baku has welcomed 449 judoka (280 men, 169 women) from 76 nations to the second of five annual Grand Slams on the IJF World Judo Tour. Only three events remain in the Olympic qualification phase with the Baku Grand Slam being followed by the Almaty Grand Prix next week (13-15 May) and the final points available are up for grabs at the invite-only World Judo Masters (27-29 May) in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Baku Grand Slam is the most vital juncture yet in the Olympic cycle as the timing and incentive for victory in Azerbaijan could provide the ranking points and momentum for a Rio 2016 medal challenge. The Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex was renovated and modernised to host the inaugural European Games last year and provides a first-class setting for the finest judoka in the sport who will be summoning every ounce of energy to capture a points windfall with 500 points on offer to gold medallists, 300 for silver and 200 for bronze.

Baku’s largest multi-sports venue is primed to show the superstars of judo and is a setting becoming of Azerbaijan’s own outstanding talents and the international delegations. The venue owes its spectacular design to a beautifully presented transition from the Old City, the historical core of Baku, to the new modern city which has seen a remarkable building boom of new hotels, office buildings and skyscrapers which has enabled the capital city to be ideal hosts of events of such magnitude.   

On Thursday afternoon the delegations gathered at the Hyatt Regency hotel just 1km distance from the competition venue for the all-important draw.   

Mr. Naser AL-TAMIMI, IJF General Treasurer (above - centre), made the opening address on behalf of the International Judo Federation.

“Dear Mr. Vice-President, dear Azerbaijan Judo Federation members, dear colleagues and friends, on behalf of IJF President Mr. Marius VIZER, I wish you all a successful competition. I hope you reach your goals not only here in Baku but also at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. I would like to thank the Azerbaijan Judo Federation for the very good organisation and I wish you a lot of luck.”

Mr. Sadig SADIGOV, Azerbaijan Judo Federation Vice-President (above - centre), made the welcoming address on behalf of the hosts.

“Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to Baku on behalf of the Azerbaijan Judo Federation. We are honoured to host you and such an important event so close to the Olympics. I am very excited for this event and hope you all enjoy your stay in Baku. I wish you all good luck and thank all the delegations for their participation.”

Mr. Bernd ACHILLES, IJF Refereeing Director, said: “All the referees selected for the Olympic Games will be here at the Baku Grand Slam and also at the Almaty Grand Prix and the World Judo Masters. This is a crucial stage of the season and everyone has their part to play in delivering a successful event here in Baku and throughout the road to Rio 2016.”

World number one Rustam ORUJOV (AZR) took the over the IJF's Instagram account on Monday. Click here for more

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Top -48kg seed GALBADRAKH Otgontsetseg (KAZ) has lit up the international stage in 2016 to transform all projections for the Rio 2016 Olympics. GALBADRAKH has won five medals from five competitions this year to storm up the rankings to the fourth place on the world ranking list. GALBADRAKH, winner of the Paris Grand Slam, Samsun Grand Prix and Asian Championships in 2016, faces opposition from Olympic bronze medallist CSERNOVICZKI Eva (HUN) and European bronze medallist Dilara LOKMANHEKIM (TUR). 


World number three Erika MIRANDA (BRA) has arrived in Baku on the back of winning the Pan American Championships a week ago in Havana, Cuba. MIRANDA is among the favourites for the Olympics and a medal in Baku would boost her momentum further while judo fans will also be paying close attention to the fortunes of category standouts such as Havana Grand Prix winner Mareen KRAEH (GER) and Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Annabelle EURANIE (FRA). 


Japan-based LIEN Chen-Ling (TPE) is the top seed in the -57kg category with her Asian Championships bronze medal promoting her to 10th place on the world ranking list. LIEN, 28, who is coached by long-time Japanese international TANIMOTO Ikumi, will be in action alongside former world champion Rafaela SILVA (BRA), the rapidly maturing Nekoda SMYTHE DAVIS (GBR) and Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist KARAKAS Hedvig (HUN). 


Martyna TRAJDOS (GER) achieved the best result of her career in Baku as the winner of the European Games a year ago and hopes the Azerbaijan capital will once again be a happy hunting ground as the German starts as the top seed in the -63kg category. TRAJODS has Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Edwige GWEND (ITA), former world champion Yarden GERBI (ISR) and European bronze medallist Anicka VAN EMDEN (NED) all for company in a fascinating entry.  


Germany also boast the top seed in the -70kg category as former world silver medallist Laura VARGAS KOCH (GER) is the fighter to beat in Baku. VARGAS KOCH finished outside of the medals at the European Championships in April and aims to rediscover her best form by ousting rivals such as world silver medallist Maria BERNABEU (ESP) and defending Baku Grand Slam champion Sally CONWAY (GBR). 


European silver medallist Guusje STEENHUIS (NED) and teammate Marhinde VERKERK (NED) will continue their quest for the sole -78kg Olympic berth for the Netherlands on Sunday in Baku. The Dutch duo will be joined on the tatami by world champion UMEKI Mami (JPN) who has just been selected for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 


World champion YU Song (CHN) is the number one seed in the women’s heaviest weight category. YU will have to resist Olympic champion Idalys ORTIZ (CUB) and former European champion Emilie ANDEOL (FRA) to prevail in Baku as one of the strongest categories in the competition. 

The Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex is set for #JudoBaku2016



The men’s lightest weight category could provide the perfect start for the hosts as European silver medallist Orkhan SAFAROV (AZE) is the top seed. DASHDAVAA Amartuvshin (MGL) and GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL) have been beaten to Rio 2016 by boy-wonder TSENDOCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL) and will look to put their mutual frustrations behind them with a medal-winning display on day one. 


Double world silver medallist Mikhail PULYAEV (RUS) leads the way in the -66kg category and will be regarded as one of the most likely top seeds to turn that status into gold on Friday evening. PULYAEV, who took bronze at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix in February last time out, can expect a lively and testing day with world bronze medallist Golan POLLACK (ISR) and European silver medallist Colin OATES (GBR) included in the plentiful field. 


European champion and world number one Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) is Azerbaijan’s leading medal threat at their home event. The Baku-based fighter won his home Grand Slam a year ago and will need to produce another vintage showing to surpass fellow seeds such as former world bronze medallist Dirk VAN TICHELT (BEL) and London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist SAINJARGAL Nyam-Ochir (MGL). 


World champion NAGASE Takanori (JPN) competes for the first time internationally since winning his first world crown last year in Astana. World number three NAGASE, 22, who will fly the flag for Japan in Rio 2016, could come up against European sensation Ivaylo IVANOV (BUL) for the very first time. The 21-year-old Bulgarian, who won bronze a week at the European Championships in Kazan, has been funded to compete in Baku by the IJF.  


Four-time world medallist Kirill DENISOV (RUS) is the top seed in the -90kg category. The gritty Russian did not compete at the European Championships but now has his chance to show his unquestionable quality on the worldwide stage in Baku. Marcus NYMAN (SWE) has breathed new life into his stalling career this year with a run of stunning results on the IJF World Judo Tour. The Swedish fighter won the Dusseldorf Grand Prix, took silver at the Samsun Grand Prix and then bronze at the European Championships. Paris Grand Slam winner NISHIYAMA Daiki (JPN) has missed the cut for Rio 2016 but has the opportunity to show the Japanese selectors and the world why he’s such a popular performer. 


Top seed Karl-Richard FREY (GER) is the front-runner in the -100kg category which is bursting with IJF World Judo Tour medal winners. FREY is joined by countryman Dimitri PETERS (GER) as their duel for Olympic selection is poised to go down to the final qualifier, the World Judo Masters, next month. Former world silver medallist Jose ARMENTEROS (CUB), Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Jorge FONSECA (POR) and reigning Baku Grand Slam gold medallist Adlan BISULTANOV (RUS) will all be vying for crucial points. 


BOR Barna (HUN) won gold at this event in Azerbaijan last year and returns as the top seed in the men’s heavyweight category which will close the tournament on Sunday. World bronze medallist Iakiv KHAMMO (UKR) and Olympic bronze medallist Rafael SILVA (BRA) will be targeting top spot while the second world bronze medallist Adam OKRUASHVILI (GEO) will see action along with world number five Roy MEYER (NED). 

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: Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex

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