This is obviously the case for the Portuguese Judo Federation, which opens the doors for the events of the 2022 World Judo Tour season, by including for the first time in its history a competition of this magnitude on its calendar. The challenges were many, one can imagine. Welcoming hundreds of participants from all over the world is never easy. It is even less so when the world is still immersed in what feels like an endless health crisis.
However, the team of President Jorge Oliveira Fernandes deployed incredible energy so that at 10a.m. today everything would be in place so that the 2022 Portugal Grand Prix could get off to a good start. That was the case, obviously.
Judo being the way of adaptation, from the first matches, while many questions remained unanswered concerning the new rules, we could see that all the athletes had already perfectly integrated the new regulations and had adapted to the judo which will prevail in the next three years, until Paris 2024. It's never easy because as long as the first hajime hasn't sounded, we can't guarantee that the old reflexes won't come back. Of course it will take a little while to see everyone perfectly familiar with the twelve new points of the refereeing rules. For sure there will be some mistakes but soon, those will be avoided and judo will continue to be the sport we love, offering so many opportunities to live our passion to the full.
The first day of Grand Prix Portugal 2022 made no exception already. From the first match on, we saw athletes ready to perform, referees concentrated as never before, officials and staff with their eyes focused on the action and spectators truly enjoying the show. We can say that the World Judo Tour is back or that it started again. We can say that a whole new story is about to be written. We can forget the past even if we cherish it and look into the future that is unrolling in front of us, to enjoy a beautiful present here in Portugal.
Women's -48kg: Golden Costa Signs for a Portuguese Success
What better way to start the season than by entering the final of the first grand prix of the year? This is what the talented Catarina Costa did and doing it at home certainly had an even better flavour for the Portuguese judoka. In the final she found Hyekyeong Lee, a representative of the bloated and successful Korean delegation.
Supported by the public, concentrated and determined, Costa began the match with gold as the only option. During normal time, a little dominated by the strong grip of her opponent, she was nevertheless the more active player on the tatami and Lee was penalised twice. As golden score commenced Costa was also penalised but immediately after the penalty she executed a perfect de-ashi-barai for a waza-ari that was confirmed by the video playback. Lee landed on the whole side of the body at 90 degrees or more to the rear. According to the new regulations, there was no discussion.
Catarina Costa declared, "I came here to get sensations. I’m far from being at 100% but my head was right, much better than the body. It always helps to have the crowd on your side but today it was for sure a mental win."
Frenchwoman Lea Beres (FRA) found the Belgian Ellen Salens on the way to the podium in the first bronze medal contest. Both athletes were qualified for the first time for the final block of a World Judo Tour event and this time it was Lea Beres who won, after a third shido was given to Salens during golden score. So officially, Beres, who was coached by Olympic and world champion Lucie Decosse, is the first athlete of the 2022 season to win a medal.
A common geographical point, Croatia, united the two other athletes qualified for bronze. Indeed, a silver medallist in Zagreb last September, Mélanie Vieu (FRA) was hoping for at least the same result, if not better, but she had to settle for the contest for the bronze medal against Dutch judoka Amber Gersjes, junior world champion in 2017 and that was also in Croatia. Here in Portugal, one of them had to add a nice line on their prize list. Imitating her teammate, Melanie Vieu used almost two minutes of the golden score period to eventually find an opportunity to throw her opponent, after only shido had been given so far.
Men's -60kg: Harim Lee Led in the Purest Style
At first glance, Balabay Aghayev seems like a relative newcomer but judo specialists already know that the young Azeri is not just anyone, since last October, during the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Grand Slam, he not only reached the final but he won in the French capital. It was therefore not surprising to find him again in the final of a World Judo Tour event where he was up against the silver medallist of the 2015 Junior World Championships, the Korean Harim Lee.
Very stable on his feet, maybe a little too confident though, Aghayev was thrown a first time with a massive morote-seoi-nage of the purest style, for waza-ari. Despite Aghayev's protest, the technique was perfectly executed, without any stop, for a valid mark. A little while later, Lee reproduced the same effort for the same result and a crystal clear victory.
Earlier in the competition, the number one seed, Spaniard Francisco Garrigos, was eliminated by the Japanese delegate Taiki Nakamura, before losing in the repechage against the Mongolian Tsogt-Ochir Byambajav. It was certainly not the result Garrigos expected but the season has just begun. The most important thing for the moment is to take stock of the work that still needs to be done to regain an optimal level.
With the exception of Balabay Aghayev in the final, another European competitor still had a chance of winning a medal as Angelo Pantano (ITA) faced Tsogt-Ochir Byambajav for the bronze medal. Unfortunately for the transalpine athlete, the waza-ari scored was not enough when compared with Tsogt-Ochir's two waza-ari scores.
Sumiyabazar Enkhtaivan (MGL) who finished at the foot of the podium in Paris in October, faced Nakamura for a bronze medal. The latter had eliminated Garrigos but did not manage to reach the final. The Mongolian again finished fifth as he was pinned down by Nakamura for ippon, to win a first grand prix medal for the Japanese.
-52kg: The Powerhouse Krasniqi Is Back at -52
When the reigning Olympic Champion, Distria Krasniqi, even if it was in the lower weight category, is present, it definitely puts pressure on the shoulders of the other competitors but the pressure is shared because being the woman to beat puts you in a position of mental fragility that not everyone can handle.
Everything seemed to be off to a good start for the Kosovar, who passed the first rounds with ease, before she met Joana Diogo in the semi-finals. In front of her home crowd, the Portuguese champion transcended herself and scored a hard-hitting waza-ari straight from the bell. Krasniqi had to refocus and not lose her nerve, to regain control of a tricky contest.
This is what she did by equalising, a waza-ari each, before scoring a clear ippon, which destroyed Diogo's hopes. Krasniqi thus demonstrated all the mastery that propelled her to the top of Olympus last summer, but she also learned a lesson: in judo everything is possible and you must always remain vigilant whatever your level. On Diogo's side, it is certain that the defeat was bitter, but the young athlete has nothing to reproach herself for. She did the job and did it well. Krasniqi was just too strong, despite her mistake.
In the final, opposed to Ana Viktorija Puljiz (CRO), halfway through and with only one shido on the board, given to the Croatian, the Krasniqi machine came into action to produce a massive o-soto-gari that gave no chance to Puljiz. Krasniqi was definitely unbeatable today.
She declared, "I came here to get points because since I changed category I moved from being world number 1 to number 38. I need as many points as possible to be seeded in a few months."
In the first match for a bronze medal, Fabienne Kocher (SUI), a regular on the world circuit, faced Estrella Lopez Sheriff (ESP) to complete the medallist quartet. The Swiss judoka proved to be the better of the two as she threw her opponent with a massive o-soto-gari for ippon.
Diogo finally found herself in a position to stand on the podium, against her compatriot Maria Siderot and after over a minute of golden score, Diogo scored waza-ari to earn one more medal for Portugal on day one of their Grand Prix.
Men's -66kg: The Best Vieru Returns
Being world number one, bronze medallist at the Tokyo Olympic Games and world champion in 2015, not to mention his two victories at the World Masters, Baul An (KOR) was not only one of the favourites but was the number one favourite of the competition. However, it was not him who found himself in the final against the other top seed of the tournament, the Moldovan Denis Vieru, who had pretty tough matches to reach the final.
It was indeed the Swiss Freddy Waizenegger, 180th in the world ranking, without reference on the circuit, who dethroned the Korean to face Denis Vieru (MDA) for the gold medal. There are victories that mark a career, moments that leave traces. For Baul An, this defeat will leave him with a taste of incompleteness, while for Waizenegger, the scent will be sweeter and more pleasant.
As soon as the final began, it appeared that Denis Vieru was clearly a level above Freddy Waizengger this time. Despite his unbelievable performance in the semi-final, the Swiss judoka couldn't do anything against Vieru's power and technical skills. The latter executed throws for two waza-ari scores, with style, to win the title.
Denis Vieru declared, "I’m world number 2 and I have 2 goals this year: being number 1 and fighting in every final. Today was a step forward toward that."
Freddy Waizenegger said, "I was not affraid of Vieru even if it was my first WJT final. The problem is that I injured my right elbow in the quarter-final and was not at 100%, but hey, it was a great day."
In the first match for a bronze medal, the Japanese Yamato Fukuda (JPN) was opposed by Bogdan Iadov (UKR) and the Ukrainian competitor was not afraid of his opponent, moving forward to win a brilliant bronze medal.
For the second bronze medal we found Baul An, with the desire for revenge, against the Mongolian Narmandakh Bayanmunkh. The Korean champion did not want to go home with empty pockets! He gave no chance to Narmandakh Bayanmunkh to win the bronze medal.
Women's -57kg: Silva, the Comeback
Absent from the circuit for many months, Rafaela Silva, World Champion in 2013 and Olympic Champion in 2016, returned to the World Judo Tour on the occasion of the Grand Prix Portugal 2022. It was a good timing for her since the Brazilian champion reached the final, not without difficulty sometimes though against athletes ready to give everything, to face Pleuni Cornelisse, who lined up the victories in the other half of the draw.
As in the best hours of her exceptional career, Rafaela Silva executed a flawless hip movement on the edge of the tatami, which landed her and her opponent in the middle of the inscription 'PORTUGAL 2022' for a magnificent ippon. It is certain that Portugal will remain forever in Silva's memory as a beautiful comeback.
Jaeryeong Kim and Eunsong Park gave Korea another medal chance as the two teammates met in the first final for the bronze medal for a victory of Park.
For the last bronze medal match of the day, the Portuguese public was delighted to watch the great Telma Monteiro still competing for a medal and who is now starting a new Olympic cycle, which could bring her to a sixth participation at the Olympic Games, in Paris in 2024, a record which would propel her on another planet. Monteiro was opposed to the French Martha Fawaz and during the first half of the match Fawaz seemed to be stronger and more dynamic than her illustrious opponent. But like a phenix, Monteiro found the necessary energy to propel the French on her back with force, speed and control to score a ippon with a o-soto-gari. Bravo champion! Keep going and collecting awards.