When you have eight current Paralympic champions and 13 current IBSA world champions entering the same event, you know that the field is going to be beyond competitive. Almost 250 judoka from 47 nations arrived in the city of Heidelberg, Germany, for the first Paralympic qualifier of 2024.

The stakes are high as the offer is double points for this event. Until the middle of the week, athletes have undergone eye classification to renew their status’ within the group; while there are also over a dozen newcomers arriving to test their skills amongst the world’s finest VI judoka.

J1 Women

The -48kg category welcomes double world champion Nataliya Nikolaychyk (UKR). With Paralympic Ranking (PR) leader and IBSA Tokyo Grand Prix winner Khaiitkhon Khusan Kyzy (KGZ) absent from Germany, silver medallist Shizuka Hangai (JPN) will be in action looking to improve their finish. Khusan Kyzy is holding the last qualifying spot in this weight class currently so to further her position, a medal is almost a must.

2023 world champion and Baku Grand Prix winner, Yijie Shi (CHN) will seek to dominate the -57kg category and with a good day at the office she could take the PR throne from Liana Mutia (USA). China’s robust line does not stop at Shi, as teammate and world champion Li Liu is also ready for action, in the -70kg category. In the same weight class, Baku and Tokyo Grand Prix silver medallist Theodora Paschalidou (GRE) will strengthen Europe’s medal chances. Another double world medallist is on site to challenge the +70kg category; current PR leader, Anastasiia Harnyk (UKR) will be the one to watch in this weight.

J1 Men

The ranking leader of the -60kg category is Kapil Parmar of India. Despite his top position, Parmar is not skipping the German trip as he looks to keep world champion Miguel Vieira (POR) beneath him on the list. The Portuguese judoka is only 54 points away from claiming the top ranking spot.

Uruguay’s Henry Borges defeated all challengers during the 2023 Tokyo Grand Prix so he could be on form again, now that he has proven that he can do it!

Alexandru Bologa (ROU) has been world #1 since 2019 and despite moving up to the -73kg category, he remains the ruler of his division and with that, the world. The European and world champion Romanian judoka has been undefeated for over a year now. Will Germany be the place with chances for others?

The -90kg category is projecting with a rather strong line-up, however the main man, world champion Mousa Gholami (IRI) did not fancy the trip. This will open all doors to world silver medallist Arthur Cavalcante Da Silva (BRA) to take glory. Challenges might occur from former Paralympic champion and 2023 European champion Oleg Cretul (MDA) as well as 2023 Asian Para Games winner Yurong Wu (CHN). Another Brazil-Moldova clash could be on the cards in the +90kg category via world champion Wilians De Araujo and European champion Ion Basoc.

J2 Women

Double world champion and PR leader Akmaral Nauatbek (KAZ) fancies the double point weekend and signed up with the idea of continuing to dominate the -48kg category. The only other person from the 2023 world rostrum to appear in this weight class is Sandrine Aurieres Martinet (FRA). More interestingly, it has been a while since we have seen Tokyo Paralympic champion Sevda Valiyeva (AZE). In fact, she is not even on the ranking list for the -57kg category but she is likely to re-arrange the page following this weekend. All 2023 world medallists will be ready for whatever challenges Valiyeva throws at them, or perhaps the other way around.

Another Tokyo Paralympic champion’s name shows in the -70kg category, Alana Maldonado (BRA), who happens to be right on the border of qualification. It must be noted that the Brazilian judoka last competed a little less than a year ago. Quite the opposite applies for world champion Yue Wang (CHN).

Meg Emmerich (BRA) is the current Paralympic gold medallist in the +70kg category and yet her teammate, world silver medallist Rebeca Silva, is the one who sits on the ranking throne of this division.

J2 Men

The Uzbek duet, Kemran Nurillaev and Sherzod Namozov are dominating the current PR of the -60kg category, however in Germany, only the latter will attend. Given that there are exactly 300 points between the two, this tournament could give Namozov the opportunity to overtake Nurillaev on the ranking and with that the leading spot for the Paris Games. To do that, he will need to overcome world silver medallist Nukri Migrijanashvili (GEO) and bronze medallists, Anuar Sariyev (KAZ) and Ishak Ouldkouider (ALG).

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic gold medallist Vugar Shirinli (AZE) has been out of touch until recently when he claimed silver at the Tokyo Grand Prix in December. Can and will he create chaos in the ranking? The -73kg category brings two Paralympic champions to the tatami, Feruz Sayidov and Uchkun Kuranbaev, both from Uzbekistan. Sayidov is currently in qualifying position but with points being doubled, the ship hasn’t sunk yet for teammate Kuranbaev. European champion Namig Abasli (AZE) and 2023 Tokyo Grand Prix winner, Yujiro Seto (JPN) are also ready to cause upsets.

During Paris 2024, the host nation’s biggest golden hope will, without a doubt, be Helios Latchoumanaya. The world and European champion had a terrific 2023 and, with that, fixed top spot on the Paralympic ranking in the -90kg category. The French judoka will show up in Germany with 12 other teammates.

The heavyweight brings yet another set of Paralympic champions, namely Christopher Skelley (GBR) and Vahid Nouri (IRI). It’s worth noting that the latter is also the current world champion. So, who dares to face the challenge head on?

Heidelberg, the City of VI Judo

The city of Heidelberg has been hosting VI events for over three decades and this is the first time they were able to add the grand prix title. IBSA Judo Chairman and IJF Sport Commissioner, Mr Janos Tardos explains, “The German judo community made a lot of effort for the development of VI judo, so it was a good time for them to organise a high-level worldwide judo event. We have 3 grand prix this year. The stakes are high for everyone as the competitions add double points to the world ranking. So, participation is important for everyone.”

The President of the German Disabled Sports Association e.V. and National Paralympic Committee, Mr Friedhelm Julius Beucher also waits proudly for all delegations, “It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you all to the 2024 IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Heidelberg. As President of the German Disabled Sports Association, I am proud to host this important sporting event. For the athletes it is one of the last opportunities to qualify for the Paralympic Games 2024 in Paris.

The IBSA Judo Grand Prix brings together athletes from all over the world. They demonstrate their skills and measure themselves against the best in their class. Para sport has a long tradition in Germany and we are passionate about promoting inclusion and integration for people with disabilities, through sport. The IBSA Judo Grand Prix is another step in this direction and a crucial one on the road to Paris.

Now it's time to pursue dreams! Qualifying for the Paralympic Games in Paris 2024 is the ultimate goal of our athletes. I would like to encourage all participants to give their best, to fight fairly and to live the values of sport.

I would like to thank all the organisers, sponsors, volunteers and supporters who have made this tournament possible. Your commitment and passion for Paralympic sport is admirable and indispensable.

Let us enjoy this tournament together and support the athletes on their way to the Paralympic Games in Paris 2024. I wish all participants the best of luck and unforgettable moments in Heidelberg.”

The event can be viewed live online on the IBSA YouTube channel.

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