We will miss this. In a few days the World Judo Tour, 2021 edition, will end in Abu Dhabi and it will be necessary to wait a few weeks and let the end-of-year celebrations pass before re-assembling the athletes from all over the world. But let's not shy away from our pleasure. Today was the first day of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2021 and there are still two full ones left before the curtain closes.

So we saw a lot of interesting things in the first five categories. We admired the youth of the Italian Scutto at -48kg, the consistency of Yang (TPE) at -60kg, the professionalism of Buchard (FRA) at -52kg, the concentration of Vieru (MDA) at -66kg and the ability to be present still at the highest level of Monteiro (POR) at -57kg.

All these findings are synonymous with a very high level of performance. While the Olympic qualification is on the horizon, as from May 2022 all points will count for the Paris 2024 Games, we can already feel that the preparation is in full swing.

Tomorrow we will find four new weight categories which for sure will delight us as much as those of today.

Women's -48kg: Youth in the Spotlight with Scutto

Number one seed in the category, Shirine Boukli (FRA) is positioned as a serious contender in the years to come for one or more major titles. 4th in the world rankings after a roller coaster season that brought her immense joys as well as major disappointments, she arrived in Abu Dhabi determined to do better than her third place in Paris in October. Mission accomplished! The French judoka scaled the draw sheet to the final, to stand in front of a young rising star. It was indeed Assunta Scutto (ITA), the recent junior world champion in Olbia, also last month, who was opposed to Boukli.

The first very strong attack came from Scutto with an o-uchi-gari that unbalanced Boukli but for no score. A first warning for the French athlete who was the more experienced competitor of the final despite being only 22 years of age. When your opponent is only 19, this happens. In little more than two minutes, already four shido were given, two to Boukli and two to Scutto. On the gong Scutto was very close to scoring but Boukli escaped. Unfortunately that was a sign, because a few seconds into golden score, the Italian youngster executed a perfect change in direction to score a waza-ari with a clever o-uchi-gari to win her first gold medal at that level.

Assunta Scutto said, “My will to win helps me to be strong and win these big events. Gold at the JuniorWorld Championships and here is a good ending to the year. Now I have to rest and prepare for the Italian National Championships.

For the first bronze medal, we saw Catarina Costa (POR), who so far obtained only fifth places in 2021 (Masters, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, Tokyo 2020 and Paris) face the Russian, Sabina Giliakova. When the match began it was really hard to say who would win as it was a tough and really close match. Under the pressure of her opponent, Costa did not seem to be able to put Giliakova in danger but the latter was not able to throw either. Thus it was time for golden score, with a shido to each name. After two minutes of golden score, Costa put a little more effort in and was close to scoring but it was Giliakova who was penalised instead, for grabbing the leg of her opponent. Just before three minutes of extra time, Costa finally scored a waza-ari with an opportunist sumi-gaeshi. The Portuguese champion let her joy explode with this well deserved medal, the first one of this season for her.

For a second bronze medal we found the second French judoka in the category, Mélanie Clément Legoux, to whom Boukli had been preferred for the Olympic Games, against the other Russian Irina Dolgova. Clément Legoux, already a silver medallist at the Paris Grand Slam, came to Abu Dhabi to perfect her preparation in full view of the 2022 season. Very fit a few weeks ago, she nevertheless recognised that her Parisian medal had arrived a little too early to really get an idea of her true state of form. For the second time in a row, the athletes had to go through golden score to determine the winner as neither of them was able to open the scorecard during normal time. With a shido awarded to each competitor for avoiding gripping, Clément Legoux was under pressure as she already had received a shido at the beginning of the match. One more and she would be out. After 6:20, there were two shido a piece, as Dolgova was warned a second time. Eventually, after 9 minutes and 17 seconds of extra time, the third shido was given to Dolgova, to offer the medal to Clément Legoux. Altogether the match was the equivalent of more than three regular bouts.

Medals, checks and flowers were presented by H.E Mohamed Bin Thaeloub Alderee, Chairman of the UAE Werestling and Judo Federation and Mr AbdulRazak Alali, Represantitve of Mint - Sponsor of the UAE Judo Federation

Men's -60kg: Yang Confirms his Favourite Position

Currently world number one, since his silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Yung Wei Yang (TPE) is a serious client for medals on the World Judo Tour. Regularly placed, but more rarely a winner, Yang had one more chance to put his name at the top of the results, as he reached the final against Ramazan Adbulaev, already a finalist in Paris in October and bronze medallist in Tel Aviv and Kazan earlier in the season. It is interesting to note that although we are in a transition period between Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024, many athletes like Yang and Abdulaev are already positioned among the best. They store experience at the highest level, an experience that could serve them well in the near future.

The first seconds showed immediately Abdulaev's tactics against the Olympic silver medallist: to be agressive and push him hard in tachi-waza and ne-waza. After 1 and a half minutes things started to settle down, offering more opportunities for Yang to score. With fifteen seconds left on the clock, Yang eventually scored with a powerful seoi-nage to win his first gold medal in a grand slam, confirming his good results of the past months.

Being 118th in the world ranking, Cédric Revol (FRA) was not among the favourites of the competition. He nevertheless found himself in a position to stand on the podium, with just the Ukrainian Dilshot Khalmatov, seventh in Zagreb in September, between him and the prize. Revol scored the first waza-ari with a beautiful morote-seoi-nage to take a strong lead. The shido that were then distributed could not change the final results and Revol added one more medal to the French delegation already present with three finalists on the first day of competition.

Samuel Hall surprised all in Zagreb in September by winning the silver medal. The question was whether he could repeat his feat. This was almost the case, since once again the British judoka entered the final block; this time for a possible bronze medal against the second Ukrainian Oleh Veredyba, a newcomer, with just a junior bronze medal since last September. It took little over thirty seconds for Hall to follow a missed seoi-nage attempt with a perfectly executed turn-over to pin down his opponent for ippon.

Medals, checks and flowers were presented by Mr Timur Kulibayev, President of the Kazakhstan Olympic Committee and Eng. Abdulaziz Fahad Al-Bassam, President of the Saudi Judo Federation

Women's -52kg: Buchard's Plan Works Well in Abu Dhabi

Who could seriously compete with the silver medallist of the last Olympic Games, Amandine Buchard? That was the question and the Frenchwoman quickly brought a clear answer, thanks to her dazzling kata-guruma: no-one! In the final she was opposed to Chelsie Giles (GBR), also a medallist in Tokyo this summer. It became clear that the two competitors had no real competition in front of them in Abu Dhabi.

Leading with a head to head statistic of 2-0 against Giles, Buchard stepped on to the tatami with confidence and determination to add one more victory to the list, but the British athlete has proved in recent months that she is among the top athletes of the category, especially with her ne-waza skills. While Buchard has been on top of her art for quite a while, Giles has been emerging over the past two years. As the final unfolded, the latter was penalised twice for passivity as Buchard was always first to attack. The third penalty logically fell within the last minute, Giles being totally blocked from attacking. Buchard is still the stronger athlete. She came with a plan and she applied it perfectly.

Amandine Buchard said: "I asked my coaches to let me be here. It is my first event after the Olympic Games. I wanted to feel how I would fight and this event is a part of the preparation for the 2022 Paris Grand Slam. I enjoyed this competition. I won gold and now my next event is the European Golden League and then Paris."

Gefen Primo (ISR) could not repeat her impeccable run during the grand slam in Paris, as she had to bow to Giles in the semi-final. Qualified for the bronze medal match, Primo faced Aleksandra Kaleta (POL), third in Antalya in April. Gefen Primo entered the tatami determined to add one more medal to her already quite rich prize list and she quickly scored a first waza-ari with an eri-seoi-nage to put her in a good position, which was confirmed very fast as Kaleta was penalised three times for hansoku-make.

We must note the fine performance of the African champion Soumiya Iraoui of Morocco, who reached the match for a bronze medal against the Mongolian Khorloodoi Bishrelt, previously beaten by Buchard. Iraoui was faster in action with several deep sode-tsuri-komi-goshi attacks, but not deep enough to score. With 90 seconds left, Khorloodoi Bishrelt scored a clean ippon with an unusual uchi-mata that put the African champion flat on her back to win her fourth medal in a grand slam.

Medals, checks and flowers were presented by HE Mr Battulga Khaltmaa, Former President of Mongolia, and President of the Mongolia Judo Assocation and Mr Mohamed Jassem, Board Member of the UAE Wrestling and Judo Federation

Men's -66kg: Vieru Makes no Mistake

Only 22 years old, Ismail Misirov (RUS) was not among the seeds of the second men's category of this first day of competition in Abu Dhabi. However, the bronze medallist of the 2021 European u23 Championships did not tremble and reached the final to find himself facing a serious client, number two seed of the tournament, the Moldovan Denis Vieru, from whom specialists always appreciate clean technique.

Vieru seemed tired at the end of the day and a long season and was not able to show his usual pace and style. With both athletes being penalised twice during normal time they entered the golden score period to determine the winner. That is where something unusual happened, as Misirov was penalised a third time for not tidying his judogi.

All athletes know about that rule, in place for quite a while; between mate and hajime they must arrange their judogi to guarantee that their opponent can develop their judo. Today Misirov forgot about it and was penalised for the third time. For sure, from now on, he will never make the same mistake again. This benefits Vieru, who adds one more line to his prize list.

In the first bronze medal match Walide Khyar, who was no doubt expecting a little better in Abu Dhabi, managed to qualify to compete against Mongolian Baskhuu Yondonperenlei, seventh at the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo. If both athletes showed really strong grips, neither was able to transform that into real attacks and the match went to golden score with one shido to Yondonperenlei and two to Khyar. With 26 seconds passed, the Mongolian competitor went straight through his opponent, who missed his o-uchi-gari attempt, to score ippon with a ko-soto-gake.

Another Moldovan also entered the final block, as Radu Izvoreanu qualified against the Ukrainian Bogdan Iadov for a place on the podium and a first match between the two men. Iadov swiftly won the medal, taking less than two minutes to earn a first waza-ari with a kata-guruma, followed by an immobilisation for ippon.

Medals, checks and flowers were presented by Mr Raja Sapta Oktohari, President of the National Olympic Committee of Indonesia and Mr Armen Bagdasarov, Head Referee Director of the International Judo Federation

Women's -57kg: Monteiro Hit Gold

It was experience that spoke throughout this day, since it was two veterans of the world circuit who qualified for the final. Priscilla Gneto (FRA) was indeed Olympic bronze medallist in 2012 in London, while Telma Monteiro (POR) was in Rio in 2016 and she has one of the most extensive records on the circuit.

What is surprising is that after such a long career already for both competitors, it was the first time that they met on the circuit during an event. For most of the time, the match looked really balanced, time running with no shido on the board, when Monteiro, who is one of the strongest competitors on the World Judo Tour when it comes to the mental game, scored a waza-ari after Gneto released her concentration for a tiny moment. It was enough for Monteiro to win her sixth grand slam gold medal.

Telma Monteiro said, “This medal is very special for me. I decided to continue towards Paris 2024 and this is a good start.

The first bronze medal match saw Enkhriilen Lkhagvatogoo, winner of the Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix in 2016, face Acelya Toprak (GBR), with no notable reference on the World Judo Tour so far. Hansoku-make was awarded very fast, to Acelya Toprak, as she applied a forbidden technique on her opponent's arm, giving the victory to Enkhriilen Lkhagvatogoo.

Seeded number one, the Israeli Timna Nelson Levy, in Abu Dhabi after winning a superb mixed team bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games, did not manage to reach the final for her return to competition, defeated by Gneto. She had to console herself with a possible bronze medal, but before that she had another Frenchwoman to confront, Faiza Mokdar. Only 20 years old, Mokdar is one of the nuggets of the current French judo system. She just might shine even brighter in the months and years to come. Fast in action, Mokdar was close to overturning her opponent, but Nelson Levy avoided being pinned. During the next sequence, the latter, who seemed to be in control, actually lost control and was held by Mokdar for a first medal in a grand slam for the French competitor. She displayed really good ne-waza throughout the day.

Medals, checks and flowers were presented by Mr Max-Hervé George, CEO of Ultima Capital, Partner of the International Judo Federation and Mr Vlad Marinescu, Director General of the International Judo Federation
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