Judo legends, Olympic champions, sporting greats and special guests were among those in attendance for a lavish evening where legends were honoured and the star-studded audience was also treated to performances from world-renowned artists.
The IJF President Mr. Marius Vizer addressed the audience following the International Judo Federation anthem as judo fans watched the memorable evening unfold live on the IJF website which will also stream all eight days of the World Championships from 20-27 September.
“Good evening everyone, it is a great pleasure to welcome you all to Baku and this evening to our Hall of Fame gala,” said the IJF President.
“Tonight we will celebrate special champions, special moments and special people. Thank you to all the performers and congratulations to all of the team involved in organising this evening.
“Thank you to the Azerbaijan Judo Federation and their President Mr. Rovnag Abdullayev for the organisation and hospitality that the judo family and our extended family have all received.
“We have a very important Gender Equity Conference on Wednesday, a first for the IJF, which I hope you can all take part in following the draw at the Hilton Baku.
“I wish everyone a wonderful evening, a great World Championships and all the best to all of you.”
Azerbaijan Judo Federation Mr. Rovnag Abdullayev said: “Good evening everyone, I wish you a warm welcome to Baku. It’s a great honour to host the judo family and all of our guests here in Azerbaijan for our first World Judo Championships.
“I would like to thank IJF President Mr. Marius Vizer for this opportunity and I hope you all here a wonderful stay in Baku and an excellent competition.”
Class of 2018
Mr. Elnur Mammadli (AZE) Elnur Mammadli became the fourth Olympic champion in the history of Azeri sport and the only one in Beijing. He is now Vice-President of the Judo Federation of Azerbaijan.
Mr. Nazim Husseynov (AZE) The first Azeri Olympic champion after the independence of his country, Husseynov is a living legend and sporting idol in his country.
Mr. Ilham Zakiyev (AZE) Visually impaired judoka Zakiyev distinguished himself by becoming Paralympic Champion in the +100kg weight division, at the Athens Games in 2004, and again at the Beijing Games in 2008
The first awards of the evening remaining in Azerbaijan as three legends of judo from the land of fire were inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame by the IJF President Mr. Marius L. Vizer and Azerbaijan Judo Federation President Mr. Rovnag Abdullayev.
Mr. Antal Kovacs (HUN) Paks native Kovacs became the first Hungarian judoka to win the Olympic Games and World Judo Championships. Hungarian legend Antal Kovacs was inducted by double Olympic champion and 10-time world champion Teddy Riner who is also Chairman of the IJF Athletes Commission.
Mr. Hitoshi Saito (JPN) Japanese all-time great Saito was posthumously inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame. Saito, who passed away in 2015, became the first Japanese judoka to become a double Olympic gold medallist as he won the title in the heavyweight category in 1984 (Los Angeles) and 1988 (Seoul).
Ms. Ayumi Tanimoto (JPN) Double Olympic champion Tanimoto starred for her country at both the Athens 2004 Athens Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The inductions to Mrs. Saito (the wife of Hitoshi Saito) and Tanimoto Ayumi were made by All Japan Judo Federation President Mr. Yasuhiro Yamashita and Kodokan Judo Institute President Mr. Haruki Uemura who themselves are both members of the IJF Hall of Fame.
Ms. Xian Dongmei (CHN) Chinese great Dongmei won two Olympic titles in 2004 in Athens and in 2008 in Beijing and is now President of the Chinese Judo Association. Dongmei was inducted by Mr. Jinqiang Zhou, former CJA President.
Ms. Sun-Hui Kye (DPR) Four-time world champion Kye also won three medals in three different weight categories at the Olympic Games.
Ms. Min-Sun Cho (KOR) Now an established top-level referee, Cho won a first bronze medal in -48kg at the Seoul Games in 1988, when women's judo was a demonstration sport. Cho was finally crowned Olympic champion at -66 kg in 1996 in Atlanta.
Both champions were inducted together by Judo Union of Asia President Mr. Obaid Al-Anzi.
Mr. Anis Lounifi (TUN) Lounifi earned his title of glory by becoming the first African world judo champion in 2001 in Munich. Lounifi was inducted by Mr. Habib Sissoko.
Mr. Hesham Mesbah (EGY) Mesbah won Egypt's second Olympic medal in judo (bronze in 2008), 24 years after Mohamed Rashwan, who had won the silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Mesbah was inducted by Mr. Siteny Randrianasolo-Niaiko.
Mr. Amar Benikhlef (ALG) Benikhlef took silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and is now a coach of the Algerian national team. Benikhlef was inducted by compatriot and IJF Education and Coaching Director Mr. Mohamed Meridja
Mr. Nicolas Gill (CAN) Canadian legend made his name at the Olympic Games, winning a first bronze medal at the 1992 Games in Barcelona in -86kg, and eight years later, earned silver in -100kg in Sydney. Gill was inducted by Mr. Oscar Cassineri
Mr. Jimmy Pedro (USA) In 1999, he won the major title of his career at the Birmingham Worlds. The 1996 Olympic bronze medallist returned to his best level in 2004, after taking a break from competition, to win a second bronze medal at the Athens Games (-73kg).
Ms. Rusty Kanokogi (USA) In 1980, Kanokogi organised the first women's judo world championship in Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum, sponsoring it through the mortgage of her own home. She was the driving force behind the introduction of women's judo at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Kanokogi died in 2009.
Jimmy Pedro also collected the second award on behalf on Ms. Rusty Kanokogi as both were inducted by Mr. Manuel Larranaga, Pan American Judo Confederation President and Mexican Judo Federation President.
Mr. Ronaldo Veitia (CUB) Ronaldo coached his team at six Olympic Games from 1992 to 2012 and obtained 5 gold, 9 silver and 10 bronze medals. This made him the coach with the largest amount of Olympic medals in the history of Judo. Cuban legend Ronaldo was inducted by Mr. Jose Humberto Rodriguez.
Mr. Mark Huizinga (NED) Huizinga won the gold medal in the men's under 90 kg class at the 2000 Summer Olympics by defeating Brazil's Carlos Honorato by ippon. He took bronze at the 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics. Oceania Judo President Mr. Rehia Davio presented the induction awards to Dutch Judo Federation President Mr. Felix Thieme.
Ms. Jane Bridge (GBR) British champion Bridge is known for being the first woman in history to become World Judo Champion. She won this first world crown in 1980 in New York, in the -48kg category. Bridge was inducted by EJU President Mr. Sergey Soloveychik.
Mr. Felice Mariani (ITA) Mariani was the first Italian to win an Olympic medal in judo. After retirement, he became coach of the Italian national team, and led Giulia Quintavalle to a sensational Olympic gold medal in the -57kg class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Mariani was inducted by Mr. Heinz-Christian Strache.
The stage was set for a number of extra awards recognising fair play which were awarded by the International Fair Play Committee.
IJF Gold Medal award The IJF recognised Mr. Gavino Pirredda (ITA) who received the IJF Gold Medal for 40 years of activity in the sport. The award was presented by IJF President Mr. Marius L. Vizer.
IJF Diploma Award IJF Referee Director Mr. Bernd Achilles (GER) was next on to the stage was he was honoured with an IJF Diploma for his outstanding refereeing career. The award was presented by IJF Head Referee Director Mr. Juan Carlos Barcos.
To conclude an incredible evening of entertainment and recognition for sporting excellence, there was only one performer who could bring the gala to a spectacular close.
IJF Ambassador, award-winning, song writer and world-renowned Italian maestro, Al Bano closed the show in style with a crowd-pleasing recital.
The build-up to the 2018 World Judo Championships in Baku will intensify on Wednesday with the draw for the individual and team competition as well as the official press conference. French icon Teddy Riner, Austrian star Sabrina Filzmoser and Azeri ace Rustam Orujov will take part in the press conference.
The draw will take place at the Hilon Baku from 14.00 and will be streamed live on the IJF Facebook page www.facebook.com/ijudo