With only one of the world’s top 10 present in Zagreb at -66kg, predicting who would take the podium places would have been a fool’s game. Though there were still several strong candidates, from Gaitero Martin (ESP) to Buncic (SRB), top seed and world number 4 Bodgan Iadov might have fancied his chances at the beginning of the day. He began strongly too but in the end he had to settle for 7th place. In fact, it was Willian Lima (BRA) and Sardor Nurillaev (UZB), both IJF World Tour medallists many times, who emerged as the frontrunners.
Gaitero Martin (ESP) and Nurillaev (UZB) face off in the preliminaries.

Lima came into the day seeded 4th, with a bronze medal at the Antalya Grand Slam to his name so far this year, but he was made to work hard throughout the day. In a tough round 2 contest against Fryer (GBR), he scored a waza-ari with one minute remaining, with a sneaky dropping ippon-seoi-nage attack and held on for the win. Round 3 was another challenging match, the resistance coming in the form of the handy Myeongjin Kim (KOR), which was won by Lima countering the Korean’s seoi-nage attempt by taking him backwards to score waza-ari in the final minute.

Lima defeated Kim.

In the quarter-final awaited the relentless Tilovov (UZB) who scraped his way through the earlier rounds. Tilovov had endured 6 minutes of golden score in his earlier round but Lima clearly had no plans for the same thing to happen to him and threw the Uzbek quickly with another seoi-nage after only 10 seconds of additional time.

The Brazilian’s semi-final opponent was 20-year-old Giorgios Balarjishvili, one of the stand-outs of the day, someone whom Lima had previously lost to, at the 2022 Tokyo Grand Slam. The young Cypriot had just flattened Iadov (UKR) in their quarter-final but this time it was Lima’s turn. The fight went back and forth until, after 2 minutes of golden score, the Brazilian tried an uki-goshi and as Balarjishvili tried to avoid it, he followed it up with a rapid harai-goshi to score ippon and make the final.

Since Nurillaev was unseeded, his road to the final was arguably even tougher, as he had to dispatch 5 opponents just to get there. A comfortable tactical victory over Rapava (GEO) in round 1 got him off to a gentle start, but that was where things got a bit trickier. In round 2 he had to come from behind to beat Pertelson (EST), finishing off the Estonian with a low seoi-nage in the first exchange of golden score.

Nurillaev’s third round opponent was the familiar Gaitero Martin (ESP), whom he had beaten in their previous two matches. Today was no different, with Nurillaev scoring waza-ari in the first minute of golden score, throwing the Spaniard off his knees with hikikomi-gaeshi. His quarter-final against Huseynov (AZE) was also decided in golden score and in the semi-final he out-attacked the in-form Garcia Torne (ESP) to guarantee himself a medal.

Nurillaev passed Huseynov

In the final, Lima was much more active in normal time and had one shido to his name, while Nurillaev struggled to find his footing and picked up two penalties. Nurillaev worked his way back into the match in the opening exchanges of golden score, but couldn’t keep up with Lima for long, picking up a third and final penalty to hand gold to the Brazilian. Remarkably, this is Lima’s first ever Grand Prix medal, after many Grand Slam successes. He will be more than satisfied with the colour.

Lima was victorious against Nurillaev too.

The first bronze medal was decided between Tilovov, who knocked out Iadov in the repechage, and Garcia Torne. Both fighters had picked up two shidos going into the final minute, with Garcia Torne’s attacks coming closer to scoring. In golden score, however, the Spaniard couldn’t match the Uzbek’s attack rate and picked up a third and final penalty to hand his opponent the win. Tilovov adds another bronze medal to his growing World Tour collection.

Tilovov (UZB) worked hard for his bronze medal.

In the second bronze medal bout, Balarjishvili took on another of the day’s surprises, Aibolat Ystybay (KAZ), ranked a lowly 121 in the world, who floored Karamat Huseynov (AZE) in their repechage match with a lofty uchi-mata. Unfortunately, what should have been an explosive match ended early, as the Cypriot picked up three penalties in just 2 minutes. The bronze medal went to the Kazakh, a former cadet world champion, marking his first major senior medal.

Balarjishvili (CYP) can't quite reach the podium in Zagreb.
Medals, cheques and gifts presented by IJF Head Referee Director Mr Armen Bagdasarov and Director of Your Post Foundation Ms Senka Klaric
See also