The excitement is intensifying as we continue headlong into the final leg of Olympic qualification.

Massive numbers of competitors are descending on the last grand slams of the qualifying period. A flight to Tokyo is the prize and some judoka are pushing for the bonus of top 8 seeding. Dusseldorf, Ekaterinburg and Baku are the rightful owners of the limelight and this weekend Germany is awash with judo superstars.

Here there are almost 700 competitors, from an incredible 117 countries, with -73kg being crowned ‘king of categories’ with 78 entrants.

A full draw in Germany

The Dusseldorf Grand Slam draw was full to capacity, not a spare seat in sight. The IJF World Promotion Director Mr Uemura Haruki opened proceedings, addressing the room warmly.

“Dear all judo family, I welcome you all to Dusseldorf for the grand slam of 2020. I take this opportunity to thank the people of the city for their effort and openness. Of course, so close to the end of the Tokyo qualification cycle, each event is becoming more important for all athletes and coaches. I wish to see everyone respecting our judo spirit and to always use proper gripping and waza and look for the best Ippon. Lastly I wish everyone good luck.”

Mr Uemura addresses those assembled for the draw

German Judo Federation President Mr Peter Frese continued, “All of you are our judo friends and we are all here because we love judo. We wish you an enjoyable stay. Compete and train and also enjoy the special carnival of the city. From my heart I thank all the volunteers.”

Following the welcome, IJF Acting Referee Director Mr Florin Daniel Lascau gave a comprehensive account of the January updates to the refereeing rules, as clarified in the refereeing seminar in Doha last month. Mr Lascau also urged all teams to ensure judogi meet all sizing guidelines, reiterating that an athlete’s judogi is equipment for their opponent and therefore must be accountable to the rules of sizing and the rules of fair play.

“Respect your colleagues, the athletes, the coaches and volunteers. Respect all the values of judo throughout the competition. There have been no rule changes since the seminar in Doha, but some updates simply to clarify. Please note that every action leading to a question about an athlete’s safety, for example with diving, will lead to hansoku-maki. Beyond the rules, I wish you a nice weekend for this strong competition we have here in Düsseldorf.”

Dr Lisa Allan, IJF Competition Manager, highlighted some of the IJF media projects coming to our attention, including the ‘Coffee With Celine’ series of interviews and the video biographies ‘I Am Judo.’ Dr Allan also requested that athletes continue to update their Judobase photos by attending the on site studio during the weekend.

She added, “we are continuing to produce Tokyo 2020 athlete profile videos and to that end I ask that all judoka and coaches help us, by working collaboratively with the media team to fulfil these tasks in a timely manner.

With regard to communication, please use the hashtag #JudoDusseldorf for social media posts. Keep communication flowing so that we can address any and all challenges as quickly and efficiently as possible. We want to deliver the highest quality tournament environment.”

Mr Vladimir Barta, Head Sport Director for the IJF, then led the draw. He thanked the IT team for their hard work and professional preparation for the draw, “no-one sees them but they facilitate our time here so well.”

As we head into day one of competition, with a 9:30am kick-off, we look ahead to a veritable feast for the eyes of the judo world. So many notable contests lie ahead and it’s almost certain that there will be some surprises and some scalps taken.

Tomorrow we will be looking out for Chelsie Giles (GBR) at -52kg, as she enters seeded 7th and with a manageable run ahead of her. A European medal and a steady, consistently improving record say she’s one to watch. A possible quarter final with Abe Uta of Japan could offer some fireworks and an opportunity to really show what the Brit is made of.

Abe (JPN) against Giles (GBR) in the quarter final of the 2019 World Championships

At -66kg Miss Abe’s big brother will get to work, with the clear aim to climb closer to Maruyama on the Olympic ranking list, especially as he isn’t present to resist it. There are 6 rungs between them currently and the laws of judo say anything can happen!

Some of day two’s interest is held by the spectacular, recent breakthrough of Spanish Cadet Ai Tsunoda Roustant. She took a bronze at -70kg in Tel Aviv in January, having won medals at Cadet and Junior milestone events only a few months before. Her hunger and energy is infectious and she could be a dangerous adversary for anyone here in Germany.

Ai Tsunoda Roustant (ESP) winning bronze at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix in January 2020

Day 2 also brings us Saeed Mollaei, back at the number one position on the contest sheet and with a smile for us all, I’m sure.

On day 3 we will be treated to the enthusiasm of current world champion Jorge Fonseca (POR), without the rivalry of Mr Wolf (JPN). But Brazil, Ireland, Mongolia and Canada have all sent potential assassins and Mr Fonseca will have his work cut out, undoubtedly.

Tune in to follow all the action via the IJF website.

See also