When coaches assemble for the draw you can sense the electricity in the room. Indeed, the final countdown towards the tournament has begun and soon the athletes will meet on the tatami for their golden quest.

Nothing different at the draw this afternoon for the IJF Paris Grand Slam, edition 2019, which took place inside the competition venue, the Accor Hotel Arena at Bercy.

Mr. Jean-Luc ROUGÉ, French Judo Federation President and IJF General Secretary, spoke on behalf of the Organizing Committee.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Paris, it’s a great pleasure to see you all here present,” Mr. ROUGÉ greeted the attendants of the draw. “This is the 45th edition of the Paris tournament and in the Olympic year of 2024 we will celebrate the 50th edition.”

However, in 2024 the Grand Slam won’t be hosted in Bercy. That year it will take part near the Eiffel Tower, the iconic landmark of Paris, right in the heart of the Olympic Games site.

“A temporary stadium for 9,000 spectators will be built in front of the military school and in the same style as the Eiffel Tower it will offer a reminder of the 1900 Universal Exhibition as well as the then Paris hosted Olympic Games. Judo will be at the heart of the Games and all fans will be able to follow the competition”, Mr. ROUGÉ explained. “The architect who will build the stadium is here to understand how this competition works and we’ve already had our first meeting together along with IJF Head Sport Director Vladimir BARTA and IJF Competition Manager Lisa ALLAN. We will work to have the best conditions.”

On the occasion of this Grand Slam, the Organizing Committee also celebrates the 160th anniversary of the relationship between France and Japan, which will be noticeable with an exhibition in the competition venue. “Judo is key to the relationship between France and Japan and you will be able to observe this over the weekend. I wish you all the best for the tournament,” Mr. ROUGÉ concluded.

A Different Ball Game

Today’s draw was meticulously and swiftly performed by a computer software eliminating any possible flaws. The whole draw – including all male and female categories – hardly took thirty minutes from the coaches’ precious time away from their athletes.

However, there was a time it didn’t run that smoothly. Bernard Messner, a retired PE teacher and judo coach who has been involved at the very first edition of the Paris tournament in 1974 and many more throughout the following years, recalls how the draw looked completely different those days.

“At the very beginning in 1974, it was a totally different ball game,” he remembers. “We lined up all athletes and asked participants from the same country to stand behind each other because the board we had was limited and we could handpick the athletes. Afterwards we performed the draw with balls. I remember an edition we rented the ball machine that was used to draw the numbers for the national lottery,” Bernard jokes. “Everything was done manually those days and sometimes we had fierce discussions with the coaches in the room! Do you agree, has anyone been forgotten … etc. In those days a draw easily took two to three hours. Now it's only 30 minutes, on that level, it's great. I’m much in favor of today’s system.”

For Bernard Messner, the draw is still very important for judokas and their coaches. “Now we start from the ranking list, so the best athletes don’t meet each other in the first rounds. With another system the best two could eliminate one another in a first round, which would be bad for the competition. For the coach, the draw is also an important moment, because then he knows how to prepare his athlete. When must he begin to warm up, when must he be ready? So, this is an extremely important moment.”

The next two days will be pretty hectic with 573 athletes competing on the five tatamis inside the Accor Hotel Arena. 336 male and 237 female judokas hailing from 97 countries from the five continents will battle it out for the highest honor. Competitions will start at 9 AM CET and can be followed live on the IJF media channels.

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