From the first rounds, we knew what to expect. Alice Bellandi would once again dominate her half of the draw, leaving no chance to Loriana Kuka (KOS), who had made short work of Emma Reid in the first round, then dismissing a bronze medallist from the 2022 worlds, Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko (UKR), in the next round, before sending Alina Boehm (GER) back to the locker room in the semi-final.
Yet, despite what seemed like relentless wins, it looked like Bellandi wasn't 100% on her game. It was almost imperceptible, just based on tiny details but let's be honest, not being 100% and still producing the judo she produced during the knockout stages is a sign of a champion with a great future.
The ultimate test for Bellandi awaited her in the final where we were happy to find Anna-Maria Wagner (GER). The tall German, whose ample uchi-mata had done wonders in 2021 in Budapest, leading her to the highest step of the world podium, was obviously in very good shape today in Tbilisi. For months she has been struggling and working hard to regain the level that also allowed her to win Olympic bronze in Tokyo. With great humility and honesty, Anna-Maria explained to us in February last year, how difficult it was sometimes to be a top athlete, both physically and mentally (https: //www.ijf.org/news/show/anna-maria-s-lesson).
Former world champion Anna-Maria Wagner is back with a gold medal at #JudoTbilisi! This is grand slam gold #5 for Anna-Maria, what an achievement!🇩🇪🥇#Judo #JudoTbilisi #Georgia #WJT #RoadToParis2024 #OlympicQualifier pic.twitter.com/JZHE2Ay6nJ— Judo (@Judo) March 26, 2023
For a year, Anna-Maria no longer stood on a podium. The last one was here in Tbilisi in 2022. It's not for lack of trying but the planets didn't want to align, until Sunday 26th March. We can not say that things were complicated for her during the elimination phases. They were serious but not complicated. Round after round, she seemed to gain momentum and confidence, planting her hands diligently and launching fine attacks to join Bellandi in the final. All of this was exciting and we couldn't wait for that final.
It was a good start for Wagner, who imposed her strong right arm to launch her uchi-mata, which she carried on doing as the final was unfolding. Bellandi was penalised a first time for passivity. It was only in the last minute that she started to be able to launch her own first strong attacks with several seoi-nage but for no score. It was time for golden score, with Wagner still dominating. She kept concentrated and with a clear plan in her head. With an o-uchi-gari she eventually scored waza-ari. Wagner definitely needed a medal and the gold is even better. Just a few weeks prior to the world championships, she has now shown that she should be counted on among the possible medallists in Doha.
The first match for a bronze medal was fought between Inbar Lanir (ISR) and Natasha Ausma (NED). After Lanir installed her strong grip over the head of her opponent, we didn't have to wait for too long before seeing a massive ippon from the Israeli judoka and a bronze as her reward.
In the second match for a bronze medal, Yuliia Kurchenko (UKR) and Alina Boehm (GER) had a chance to join Wagner on the podium, but the German was stopped by Kurchenko, who scored a waza-ari in golden score with an o-uchi-gari.
Final (-78 kg)
Bronze Medal Fights (-78 kg)
Final Results (-78 kg)
More images of the Tbilisi Grand Slam 2023 - CLICK HERE