Morocco’s Sumiya Iraoui has been a fixture on the IJF World Tour for over 6 years but has only managed one medal in that time: a bronze at the 2019 Tashkent Grand Prix. She pushede on, however, and at the World Mixed Team Championships in Doha this year, something changed. She put in a stunning performance, winning 3 out of her 5 matches and helping her team take an incredible 5th place.
She was in similarly good form in Zagreb, starting the day with a rolling counter in golden score against Hwang (KOR) after a tough match in round 2. She then followed this with another excellent match against Ndiaye (SUI), which also went to golden score, with not a single shido on the board. Iraoui scored waza-ari with a two-sleeve seoi-otoshi to make her way to the quarter finals.
There she met Anja Stangar (SLO) and with 40 seconds left on the clock, she launched the Slovenian with a huge ura-nage for waza-ari, before holding on to make it to the semi-final. The 27-year-old was jumping with joy after every victory, as her hard work was coming to fruition.
In the semi-final awaited the Netherlands’ Naomi Van Krevel who had knocked out number 3 seed Pimenta (BRA) in the earlier rounds. It was another bruising contest, with both athletes on two shidos in golden score. The Moroccan persisted, however and Van Krevel picked up a third penalty, meaning Iraoui was into her first ever World Tour final.
Her opponent would be the unseeded Jessica Pereira (BRA) who impressed in ne-waza throughout the day. The world number 94 began by knocking out number 4 seed Lopez Sheriff (ESP) in their first contest, scoring waza-ari with ko-uchi-makikomi. She then followed this with two wins in a row using a sankaku turnover and kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame hold, beating Cinci (TUR) and Dimitrova (BUL), the latter in just 45 seconds.
Her semi-final saw her take on the world number 9 and top seed Mascha Ballhaus (GER) and it was unsurprisingly the toughest match of the day for both players. In the end it was Pereira’s persistence in ne-waza that paid off, as she forced the German’s arm out straight for juji-gatame in the second minute of golden score. It was a great win for Pereira, guaranteeing her first World Judo Tour medal since 2018.
The final was a tense affair, with both athletes shy to commit too strongly to their attacks in the opening minutes. When Pereira picked up a second penalty, it looked as though the contest was Iraoui’s to lose but with 30 seconds remaining, the Moroccan dropped under for a seoi-nage as her opponent circled behind her. Pereira took full advantage, guiding Iraoui backwards and onto her side for a waza-ari score. This was enough to earn Pereira her second grand prix gold medal; tears of joy followed as she embraced her coach, while Iraoui had to settle for what was still a well-earned, historic silver medal.
The first of the bronze medal matches was between 18-year-old Mio Huh (KOR), who fought past Dimitrova (BUL) in the repechage and Van Krevel. The Korean dominated Van Krevel’s left sleeve throughout the contest and used that dominant grip to throw for waza-ari just inside the second minute of the contest. The Dutchwoman had no answer for her opponent and Huh saw out the remaining minutes to earn her first World Judo Tour medal, in what was only her second attempt.
The second bronze medal contest saw Anja Stangar (SLO), who beat Angelica Delgado (USA) in their repechage bout, take on Ballhaus (GER). Both players came out firing on all cylinders but the German wasted no time in throwing the Slovenian for waza-ari with an o-uchi-gari to the wrong side in just 12 seconds. Stangar continued to throw herself forward but Ballhaus showed her class, throwing for a second waza-ari on the one-minute mark with a well-timed tsubame-gaeshi. It was bronze for Ballhaus but Stangar can be proud of what was still an excellent performance and result, her best since she returned to judo after beating cancer in 2021.