From 9am the first ippon sounded, offering the spectacle that all judo fans love so much. For this fourth event of the season, after Portugal, France and Israel, it must be said that the stage was full of top judoka, something to delight sport lovers from all over the world, since on this first day of competition alone, 177 competitors were on the hunt for medals.
It has actually been quite some time since the preliminary rounds began so early this morning. There is a simple explanation for this: after the fever of the Tokyo Games, many athletes needed a rest, before attacking a new Olympic cycle, the qualification for which is about to start. Nevertheless, from Portugal at the very beginning of the season, then in Paris and Tel Aviv, we could already observe the forces present on the World Judo Tour. With Antalya, things settle down a little more, with the return of several major players from recent years.
The Japanese are not here this weekend. They have a good reason for that, since at the same time the Japanese Championships by weight category are taking place. We will find them again very quickly though, because in a few months the World Championships in Tashkent will be their playground. Some champions are still fine-tuning their return to the heart of the national dojos, but once again, the stage is beautiful here in Antalya and it's a pleasure to see.
Women's -48kg: Mongolian Domination
After the early elimination of the number one seed and number four in the world, Catarina Costa (POR), who took a beautiful gold medal at home in Portugal in January, the draw opened up for an outsider, Ganbaatar Narantsetseg (MGL), who ruined the hopes of Merve Azak (TUR) in the quarter-finals, to face in the semi-finals Milica Nikolic (SRB), fifth in Paris in February. In the second part of the draw, the second Mongolian athlete Baasankhuu Bavuudorj continued her fine season, after she was twice propelled onto the podium in 2022 already, 2nd in Paris and 3rd in Tel Aviv. In the semi-final she met Mélanie Legoux-Clément, winner over Mary Dee Vargas Ley (CHI) in the quarter-finals, after a tight match.
Bavuudorj gave no chance to the French judoka to enter the final, scoring waza-ari twice with ura-nage, both beautiful and massive. Thus the final was 100% Mongolian!
The first half of the match was a shido battle, two for Bavuudorj, one for Ganbaatar, both athletes staying perfectly in control, giving nothing away. With thirty seconds left, Ganbaatar was penalised a second time too. No more mistakes were allowed but Bavuudorj made one again and received the third penalty synonymous with disqualification. Nevertheless, Mongolia totally dominated the category today in Antalya.
In the first bronze medal contest, Mireia Lapuerta Comas (ESP) was opposed by Mélanie Legoux Clément (FRA). Half way through, the French judoka was under pressure with two shido to her name. Mireia Lapuerta Comas took her chance and produced a massive effort after Legoux Clément released the pressure and lost her balance, to score with a ura-nage for ippon, winning her first medal in a grand slam.
For the first time ever, Chile had a female athlete present in a medal contest at a World Judo Tour event and that was Mary Dee Vargas Ley (CHI). She had a solid win in the repechage match against Ersin (TUR), to go on and face Milica Nikolic (SRB) for that medal. The first sequence on the floor should have been a clear warning for Vargas Ley, to be careful in ne-waza, because Milica Nikolic is especially strong there, but during the second sequence, the Serbian competitor was on top to pin her opponent for ippon. Bronze goes to Nikolic, but pride can definitely go to Vargas Ley, who performed beautifully today.
Men's -60kg: Yang Yung Wei’s Olympic Silver Confirmed in Antalya
Silver medallist of the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, winner of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, staying on his stride and becoming world number one, Yang Yung Wei (TPE) was the great favourite of the competition and he did not miss the call, qualifying for the final. His victory in the semi-final left him bursting with joy, thus demonstrating all the energy he had to deploy to reach this level once again.
Facing him, Lukhumi Chkhvimiani (GEO), far from being an unknown, was world champion in 2019 in Tokyo. The final promised to be explosive between the two technicians. It was actually an explosion of energy and techniques, especially coming from Yang Yung Wei, who scored with a seoi-nage for waza-ari, an advantage that gave him the victory. This is the second gold medal in a grand slam for Yang Yung Wei. We will remember the incredible battle delivered by these athletes, who at the end of the final bowed to each other and shook hands to show their mutual respect. For Yang Yung Wei it is a significant victory against a former world champion and in the years to come, there is no doubt that we will see him again.
Rodrigo Costa Lopes (POR) had the possibility of adding a second bronze medal from a grand slam to his list, competing against Francisco Garrigos (ESP), already several times a medallist at this level of competition, even at world level, with his title in the juniors in 2014 and his beautiful bronze medal last year in Budapest at the senior level. Nothing was scored during the first four minutes. On what initially appeared to be on the final gong, Garrigos pinned his opponent who tapped to surrender for ippon, but the video confirmed that the immobilisation actually began after the gong. Ippon was logically cancelled and golden score commenced with only shido on the scoreboard. When the third shido was given to Rodrigo Costa Lopes, Francisco Garrigos could finally enjoy his bronze medal.
In the second match for a bronze medal, Dilshodbek Baratov (UZB) and Jaba Papinashvili (GEO) fought over the right to join the other athletes already on the podium. In recent months, the head diving rule has been reinforced, to guarantee the safety of athletes. After thirty seconds Papinashvili launched a first attack, going directly on to his head and he was disqualified, offering a first medal in a grand slam to Dilshodbek Baratov.
Women's -52kg: Pupp Wins in Style for Hungary
The final seemed to open its arms to the French athlete Astride Gneto, seeded number one in the tournament and second in the world in the category but after a never-ending golden score in the semi-final against the Hungarian Reka Pupp, it was finally the latter who strode through those open doors to the final. For the gold medal, facing Pupp was the 2015 cadet world champion, Diyora Keldiyorova, who continues to prove the rise of the Uzbek women's team that we have been announcing for several years. This bodes well for the world championships that are to be held in Tashkent in October.
Diyora Keldiyorova took the lead quickly with a first waza-ari but as the final unrolled, Pupp scored as well to come back to evens. Into the last minute, the Hungarian athlete produced one of the most spectacular throws of the tournament so far. Keldiyorova was propelled into the air before landing flat on her back, at the hands of a devastating o-soto-gari. This is the judo we all like. Congratulations to Reka Pupp.
The Mongolian team is definitely in good shape, as Khorloodoi Bishrelt (MGL) qualified for the bronze medal match against double Olympic medallist Odette Giuffrida (ITA). But Giuffrida is an experienced competitor who can wait for the right moment to attack or who can play tactically. This is what she did this time to win a new medal at the International level.
We can't say that Larissa Pimenta (BRA) failed during the preliminary stages, but she had to bow to Giuffrida in the quarter-finals, to finally find Astride Gneto (FRA) on her way to a possible place on the podium. It took 4 minutes and 48 secondes for Gneto to win after Pimenta was penalised for a third time, for stepping out of the competition area. This is medal number seven for Astride Gneto at this level.
Men's -66kg: Vieru Confirms his Position
The discreet Denis Vieru (MDA) deserves his place as world number one in the -66kg category. His regular results at the highest level and his stylish judo have allowed him, over the months, to consolidate his domination of the category. It will be interesting to follow what happens to the Moldovan competitor in the months ahead when all the best are in attendance. In Antalya, once again, he qualified for the final where he faced the solid Willian Lima (BRA), who gave his opponents no chance in the preliminary rounds.
Less active than his opponent, Vieru was penalised with a first shido at the halfway point. Then Lima was also penalised but for a false attack. It is with one more penalty that Vieru entered the golden score period, before once again Lima was sanctioned for false attack. No more mistakes allowed but actually the Brazilian competitor made one and stepped out of the competition area. A third shido for Lima and the win went to the world number one, who bolsters his position in the World Ranking List. It was for sure not the best match for Vieru, but the champion proved that even if he can not find a solution to throw, he is capable of managing the tactical part to harvest more points.
For a first bronze medal contest, it was Tal Flicker (ISR), silver medallist of the European Championships 2021 and Orkhan Safarov (AZE), winner of the Baku Grand Slam last year, who were to compete for a place on to the podium. Safarov was unable to compete, so the medal went to Tal Flicker.
The second match for the bronze medal saw Baskhuu Yondonperenlei (MGL), winner in Paris in February and Sardor Nurillaev (UZB), winner of the 2021 Tbilisi Grand Slam, face off. Coached by judo legend, Ilias Iliadis, Nurillaev executed a beautiful piece of groundwork to conclude with a reverse juji-gatame (arm-lock) for ippon and the bronze medal.
Women's -57kg: Klimkait Shows her Red Back Patch
No offence to the other weight classes, but there is no doubt that the -57kg group was the most densely entered and therefore the most undecided category in action at the Antalya Sports Hall. Jessica Klimkait (CAN), reigning world champion, Christa Degichi (CAN), world champion the previous year, Sarah Leonie Cysique (FRA), Olympic silver medallist at Tokyo 2020 and not forgetting Timna Nelson-Levy (ISR) and Telma Monteiro (POR)… that sets the scene enough.
For a long time we believed in a fratricidal final between the two Canadians, Klimkait and Deguchi, taking place, but the latter had to bow against the bulldozer Cysique who, despite a small shido, left no chance for her opponent, as illustrious as she was. To face the French, although things were not as easy as that for her, Klimkait came out better.
Of course everybody knows that Klimkait is a seoi-nage specialist and of course all her opponents know that at any time she can drop under their centre if gravity. Despite knowing it, Sarah Leonie Cysique could not avoid the very first attack of the Canadian champion, who waited little more than thirty seconds to win by ippon. Klimkait is back with her red back patch and she showed it in the best way possible today in Antalya.
Timna Nelson-Levy is a safe bet in the Israeli team. Although we feel that she is not yet in full possession of her faculties, once again she entered the final block of an event on the world circuit. It was against the former world champion, Christa Deguchi and things were looking tight. What probably impressed the most, watching Deguchi competing today, was that she looked smaller than her opponent and many times dominated. It's the first major competition at the international level for the former world champion and she probably needs more time to be back on track. Since she didn't participate in the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, the category has already changed and she needs to adapt. The future will tell us, but at least for today she was defeated by Timna Nelson-Levy who was definitely physically stronger than the Canadian.
Telma Monteiro (POR) is still there! The longevity of this athlete is absolutely incredible, a longevity both physical and mental. Opposite the Portuguese champion, Jessica Lima (BRA) showed great things during the morning session. There would only be one of the two on the podium. 24 seconds before the end, it was Jessica Lima with a clever ko-soto-gari who scored the winning ippon for a first medal in a grand slam.