The IJF World Judo Tour 2023 kicked off in style today in Almada, where the lightweight contingent of the 554 competitors entered and took to the tatami to battle it out for vital Olympic qualification points. 12 out of the 81 countries present made it onto the medal podium and there were big wins for top seeds Chelsea Giles (GBR) and Mimi Huh (KOR).

Aside from the big, expected stories and the gold medal winners, there were, as always, many cameo tales from the day that were worthy of recognition.

Mkheidze Returns From Long Injury Lay-off to Take Bronze

At the beginning of 2022, Luka Mkheidze (FRA) was on top of the world. After winning one of France’s two individual male Olympic medals in Tokyo, he followed this up with a hard-fought bronze medal in front of his home crowd in Paris, further cementing his status as a home favourite. However, the following month he suffered a rupture of his anterior cruciate knee ligament at a training camp in Mongolia, which forced him to have an operation and a 9-month break from the sport.

Today he made his competitive comeback and in typical fashion produced an excellent display of dynamic, attacking judo. After a shaky start against Bakhtiyorov in round 2, he latched onto the Uzbek’s arm for ude-gatame, before readjusting and finishing with a strong hiza-gatame. Next up for him, in round 3, was recent Masters bronze medallist Bayramov (AZE), who Mkheidze dispatched convincingly with a beautiful combination of harai-goshi and de-ashi-harai, before finishing the Azeri off with another juji-gatame, cementing the win on the ground.

A loss against Garrigos (ESP) sent him into the repechage to face Lesiuk (UKR), whom he floored with a hugging ko-soto-gake. In the bronze medal match against Lee (KOR), his ne-waza skills once again helped him secure the victory, with a strong turnover using ashi-gatame, allowing him to pin Lee for ippon in the second minute of the contest. It was a pleasure to watch him succeed on the tatami of the World Judo Tour once more.

Smythe-Davis Takes First World Tour Medal Following Birth of Daughter

Nekoda Smythe-Davis talks passionately about the challenges and perceptions but also the joys of being a mother in high-level competitive judo. She made her competitive return last September after the birth of her daughter Ryia and has been working her way back, steadily, to the highest level of competition ever since. The twice world medallist was made to work very hard for her bronze medal in Portugal, taking a tactical win over Zemanova (CZE), before throwing Chyzhevska (UKR) with o-soto-gari right at the end of the 4 minutes. She gritted her teeth to score on Perisic (SRB) deep into golden score in the quarter-final but a mistake against Huh saw her semi-final end almost before it had begun. Despite this setback, she picked herself up to beat Ermaganbetova of Uzbekistan, throwing with uchi-mata in a contest that was on tenterhooks at two shidos apiece. Smythe-Davis’s smile at soremade said it all! 

Rahimov Edges Turkmenistan Back Towards the Medals

It’s been more than 4 years since Turkmenistan won a World Judo Tour medal, when Gulbadam Babamuratova and Batyr Hojamuhammedov each won bronze at the 2018 Agadir Grand Prix, in the -52kg and -100kg categories, respectively. This long drought was almost ended today by 18-year-old surprise package Serdar Rahimov, who took a commendable 5th place in a tough -66kg field. Rahimov racked up 4 wins, including throwing the experienced Takabatake (BRA) with tsubame-gaeshi, only to narrowly miss out on a bronze medal after going ahead by a waza-ari against Izvoreanu (MDA).

Elsewhere, there were good wins for Aybek Omirov at -60kg, Hekim Agammamedov at -u66kg and Kurbanbay Kurbanova at -48kg, showing that there is plenty of talent rising in the country’s ranks.

Cadet Prodigy Chanambam Makes World Tour Debut

India’s Linthoi Chanambam was a revelation at last year’s Cadet World Championships in Sarajevo. At just 15 years of age, she demolished the field, beating all of her opponents en route to the final with ippon scores to take home the cadet world title; the best result in the history of Indian judo.

Today, now 16, Chanambam made her World Judo Tour debut in Almada in the -57kg category and also secured her first win, beating IRT’s Dahouk with an unusual turnover. Unfortunately, her first outing at this level was ended prematurely by another revelation from last year, the aforementioned Mimi Huh but Chanambam looked at home at the senior level, belying her cadet status and one thing’s for sure, she is a bright star of the future.  

Rashnonezhad Wins for the IJF Refugee Team

Another highlight from today’s matches was seeing Mohammad Rashnonezhad produce not one, but two wins for the IJF Refugee Team in the -u60kg category. In round 1 he threw Auer (AUT) with o-uchi-gari for waza-ari in golden score, before launching Wolczak (ISR) with uchi-mata-makikomi for ippon in round 2. He fought valiantly after going down a waza-ari in the 3rd round against Lesiuk (UKR), almost pinning him at the end but couldn’t quite secure the hat-trick. Still, his performance will be an inspiration to those in the IRT, who are organised and supported by the IJF.

Day 1 reminded us that anything is possible in judo,m and day 2 promises plenty more surprises and plenty more inspiring stories. 

More images of the Grand Prix Portugal 2023 - CLICK HERE

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