Lukas Krpalek arrived in Croatia for the Zagreb Grand Prix 2023 looking to continue his latest challenge, that of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games in two different weight categories, choosing which he will finally contest closer to the time. After a disappointing first round exit at -100kg at the Masters a couple of weeks ago, knocked out by eventual winner Turoboyev (UZB), in Zagreb the double Olympic and world champion was back at +100kg and back in business. With most of the category’s big hitters staying at home, the Czech legend sailed through to the final with his superior katame-waza skills.
Krpalek and coach in the final block.

Seeded 3rd for the competition, Krpalek cruised through his round 1 match with the heavier Simionescu (ROU); the Romanian picking up 3 avoidable penalties in just over 3 minutes of contest time. A spirited Vracar (CRO) didn’t let Krpalek off as easily in round 2. The Croatian found himself held in tate-shiho-gatame after being turned over by the Czech man, but fought tooth and nail to escape after 19 seconds. He didn’t learn his lesson, however, as Krpalek repeated the move shortly after and this time held with yoko-shiho-gatame to finish the contest.

Krpalek's trademark in ne-waza.

Krpalek’s quarter-final opponent was 22-year-old Amadou Meite (FRA), who impressed in the early rounds but succumbed to a hikikomi-gaeshi attack just 1 minute into the contest. Against 2023 Tbilisi Grand Slam silver medallist Munir Ertug (TUR) in the semi-final, Krpalek again used his trademark turnover and to secure osaekomi with tate-shiho-gatame, finishing off his opponent in under 90 seconds. So far, so smooth for the 32-year-old.

If Krpalek’s path to the final was something of a stroll, then Hyoga Ota’s road to meet him there was positively pedestrian. The Japanese number 4 seed barely broke sweat as he threw, pinned and submitted his way past Lahboub (MAR), Mane (GBS), Erik Abramov (GER), and finally Ushangi Kokauri, a world silver medallist, in the semi-final.

Ota defeats Abramov.

Lahboub was on the end of a swift two-sleeve seoi-otoshi and transition to kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame. Mane was thrown twice in quick succession, first with uchi-mata, then with o-uchi-gari. Ota scored ippon against Abramov with an even bigger uchi-mata in the quarter-final and submitted Kokauri with a tight kata-ha-jime. Just like that, the All Japan openweight champion set up a first encounter with Krpalek.

Kokauri gave it his best in the semi-final but it wasn't enough.

With both athletes on stellar form, something had to give in the final. It was a left versus right or kenka-yotsu battle, with Krpalek trying to pull Ota in and the Japanese judoka trying to control the distance using his right arm. A failed sumi-gaeshi attempt from Krpalek landed him in a hold-down but he just managed to escape in time to prevent a waza-ari being given. Ota had two shidos to Krpalek’s one going into golden score and when both players failed to take a grip on the sleeve side, a penalty apiece meant that Krpalek emerged victorious. He adds a 5th grand prix gold medal to his epic collection. He continues to perform in both of his chosen weight categories, so which one will he choose for Paris? Perhaps this win will help him make that decision.

Ota almost had it...

The first bronze medal contest would be between Abramov and Ertug. The German controlled the match throughout, coming close to scoring with sumi-gaeshi early on. In the 2nd minute, he used an unusual sacrifice technique to slide himself underneath Ertug and rolled the Turkish man over for an intriguing ippon. This was Grand Prix bronze number 2 for the 24-year-old, following his win at this event last year.

Abram of takes grand prix medal number two.

The final bronze medal of the Grand Prix was decided between Kokauri and Meite. The fight went to the ground in the first minute and Kokauri drove his opponent into kuzure-kesa-gatame, but Meite continued rolling and looked to have reversed the hold. This proved not to be the case, as Kokauri kept the roll going and ended up back on top. He held the Frenchman for the full 20 seconds and comes away with a 3rd Grand Prix medal for his troubles.

Kokauri holds for bronze

Final (+100 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (+100 kg)

Medals, cheques and gifts presented by IJF Head Sport Director Mr Vladimir Barta and EJU Medical Commission member Head Medical Director of the Croatian Judo Federation Dr Ivan Bohaček.
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