We’ve reached the halfway point at the Abu Dhabi World Championships as day three of the individual competition has come to a close. The athletes in the -63 kg and -81 kg categories continued to make the event a roaring success, displaying true fighting spirit. Here we look ahead to the fourth day of competition, where the athletes in the -70 kg, -78 kg and -90 kg categories will make their bids for the three world titles on offer, while some seek critical Olympic ranking points which could make or break their Olympic dreams.
Michaela Polleres (AUT, right) defeated Lara Cvjetko (CRO, left) in the -70kg final at the Dushanbe Grand Slam 2024

-70 kg: Cvjetko and Polleres Primed and Ready With Saki Niizoe (JPN) and Barbara Matic (CRO), who have shared the last three world titles at -70kg, absent from Abu Dhabi, the 2024 title is there for the taking.

The 2022 world silver medallist behind teammate Matic and also the third seed here, Lara Cvjetko trails her compatriot in the Olympic rankings by nearly 1500 points, so she must get to the final if she is to keep her hopes of Olympic selection alive.

Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Michaela Polleres (AUT) has been in fine form, winning back-to-back grand slams in Antalya and Dushanbe ahead of these championships; she comes in as the number two seed and will be hoping to go at least one better than her world bronze medals, won in 2021 and 2023.

The number one seed is Elisavet Teltsidou (GRE), as she has won six World Tour medals since the start of 2023, including three grand slam golds and silver at the Hungary Masters 2023. She will certainly fancy her chances of winning a first world medal.

2019 world champion Marie Eve Gahie (FRA) is capable of beating anyone on her day, so cannot be ruled out. Yet, with former world medallists Giovanna Scoccimarro (GER), Margaux Pinot (FRA) and Maria Perez (PUR) also in the mix, the seeded players will come under pressure from the opening rounds. 19-year-old Tais Pina (POR) won the Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam just over a week ago, defeating Cvjekto in the final, and could also spring a surprise on the leading pack.

Krisztian Toth (HUN, right) won world silver in Chelyabinsk in 2014, losing to Ilias Iliadis (GRE, left) in the final

-90 kg: Is it finally Toth’s Time? Hungarian legend Krisztian Toth has been a staple of the IJF World Judo Tour since 2011 and has competed in every single world championship held since 2013. In that time, the 30-year-old has taken one world silver and one bronze, along with an Olympic bronze in Tokyo in 2021 and countless other World Tour medals. As the number one seed in Abu Dhabi, he will be hoping to finally earn himself a deserved first world title.

However, in the -90 kg category, where the world title has changed hands with every edition of the championships since 2013, achieving that goal will be an arduous task. With 2019 world champion Noel Van T End (NED), recent Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam winner Yahor Varapeyeu (AIN) and 2022 world silver medallist Christian Parlati in his pool, Toth will have a difficult time getting through the preliminaries.

Along with Van T End, three other former world champions will be on the starting blocks: 2022 winner Davlat Bobonov (UZB), 2017 champion Nemanja Madjov (SRB) and 2015 victor Donghan Gwak (KOR). The first two have reasonable form, but the Korean hasn’t won a World Judo Tour medal in over four years and needs to make it to the final if he is to have any hope of qualifying for his third Olympic Games ahead of Juyeop Han.

Other world medallists Marcus Nyman (SWE), Ivan Felipe Silva Morales (CUB) and Mihail Zgank (TUR) are all capable of achieving that feat again, while Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Eduard Trippel (GER) and 2024 European champion Eljan Hajiyev (AZE) also have qualification goals to meet; they will meet in round one.

Anna Maria Wagner (left) defeated Alina Boehm (right) in an all-German -78kg final at the Dushanbe Grand Slam 2024

-78kg: Down to the Wire for Germany and Ukraine Germany’s current dominance of the -78kg category is such that they have three athletes inside the top ten on the Olympic ranking list. 21-year-old Anna Monta Olek’s turn is likely to come later. For Paris 2024, which one of Anna Maria Wagner and Alina Boehm will represent their country at the Games will be decided here in Abu Dhabi. Wagner is ahead by more than 1100 points in the rankings, so for Boehm, the world title is a must win. The two are drawn to meet  at the semi-final stages; Wagner was the victor in their last encounter, at the Dushanbe Grand Slam less than three weeks ago.

Ukraine has a similar situation slightly further down the ranking list, with both Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko and Yuliia Kurchenko occupying direct qualification places. The former leads by only 500 points, so all is still to play for. Kurchenko has slightly better results in 2024 but has arguably a much tougher draw, facing a potential round two contest with 2022 world silver medallist Zhenzhao Ma (CHN). Lytvynenko is already a world medallist, having defeated the current Olympic champion Shori Hamada (JPN) in the bronze medal contest in 2022. Hamada is unseeded here.

Ukraine's Yuliia Kurchenko (far left) and Yelyzaveta Lytvynenko (far right) on the -78kg podium at the Baku Grand Slam 2024

There are many more athletes present in the weight class who also have the potential to claim world gold. Number two seed Alice Bellandi (ITA) narrowly missed out on the final in Doha last year and will be aiming to put that right this time. France’s two former world champions Madeleine Malonga and Audrey Tcheumeo are seeded sixth and seventh, respectively. Malonga has already been announced as the country’s selection for Paris and so will be keen to live up to expectations, while Tcheumeo will be looking to prove her doubters wrong; she took world silver in Doha last year.

Don’t miss any of the drama and excitement, watch day four of the Abu Dhabi World Championships 2024 live at JudoTV.com or through the new JudoTV app from 11:00 local time on Wednesday 22nd May.

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