It was a draw of infinite sadness, but professionally presented from start to finish. The sudden news of the death of Toshihiko Koga was on the minds of everyone present and in his honour the Tbilisi Grand Slam draw took place. He himself would not have wanted it to be otherwise.

After respecting a minute of silence as a tribute to the great champion, Mohamed Meridja, International Judo Federation Education and Coaching Director, took the floor.

“On behalf of IJF President Mr Marius L. Vizer I would like to wish a warm welcome to all participants. I take this opportunity to thank the organisers for their outstanding efforts to make this event very successful, despite the pandemic of Covid-19.”

Giorgi Atabegashvili, President of the Georgian Judo Federation then spoke, to say that, “hosting a major event, of such a big importance, means a lot for Georgia, for its judo society and will undoubtedly make a huge impact on further popularisation of judo in our country.”

Before going directly into the mechanics at hand, IJF Sport director Florin Daniel Lascau pointed out a relevant detail, namely that the referees present in Georgia are selected for the Olympic Games, which indicates the importance of the tournament, the true equator of an atypical season, where every point is worth gold and where each fight can mean a place at the Tokyo Olympics.

As for the participants, it should be noted that 465 judokas from all over the world have made the trip, divided almost equally between men and women, with 253 from the former and 212 from the latter.

At this point, the news fell: the entire French delegation, with its two current world champions and its tremendous potential, was withdrawn, due to a case of Covid-19, added to the previous two registered during a training camp prior to the tournament. Although the French women's team did not participate in the training camp, the French Judo Federation (FFJ) decided to repatriate all its members, to respect the principle of sanitary precaution and not to endanger the French, nor any other athlete, coach or employee of the IJF. As a result the FFJ announcement of those chosen to participate in the Olympic Games, scheduled for 20th March, has been postponed until further notice.

Now the good news! The draw, as always, offers a seductive preview, almost like an imagined trailer of the drama that will unfold from Friday morning. There are the obvious and less obvious notes to make, such as the presence of MUNKHBAT Urantsetseg (MGL) at -48kg, who just won the Tashkent Grand Slam a few weeks ago and will be difficult to defeat. It will also be interesting to follow the situation between the two Spanish athletes, Julia FIGUEROA and Laura MARTINEZ ABELENDA, as only one can qualify for the Olympic Games.

Also noteworthy is the presence of the current world champion, Canadian Christa DEGUCHI, whom we have not seen since the Grand Slam in Paris last year. Deguchi is third in the world ranking in a category, the -57kg women, led by her compatriot Jessica KLIMKAIT. KLIMKAIT was first in Budapest and third in Doha. We wanted to watch DEGUCHI and maybe even both fighting on the tatami. In Georgia we will have to be content with the first option only. 

Christa Deguchi

The German and Austrian teams came to Georgia in force, especially in the heavier weight divisions. Both flags might rise several times over the weekend, to signify some precious points being won.

At -78kg WAGNER will want to prove her top spot in the ranking over MALZAHN, who comes in as the number 3 seed in Tbilisi. This is mirrored at -70kg, with number 2 and 3 seeds, SCOCCIMARRO and BUTKEREIT, standing in front of the prospect of a semi-final clinch. Nervous times ahead for the German women’s contingent!

Former Olympic and World Champion, Idalys ORTIZ (CUB), is still motivated to collect more medals on the international scene. Will the rivalry between the two Brazilians, Maria Suelen ALTHEMAN and Beatriz SOUZA, be an issue for the Cuban legend?

Jorge Fonseca

At home the Georgian team will be under scrutiny, with 25 men and 7 women engaged, including incumbent athletes with a strong experience of the international level, such as Vazha MARGVELASHVILI (-66kg), but also many newcomers, who will want to prove that they deserve their spot in the Georgian armada.

At -66kg we'll look at the Georgian of course, but also the stylish Denis VIERU (MDA), the Mongolian GANBOLD or the Uzbek Sardor NURILLAEV (UZB).

Canada definitely came to Georgia looking for medals and points. At -73kg, Arthur MARGELIDON is a good chance for a podium finish for the maple leaf flag bearers, as will be the case for the Olympic and world medallist Antoine VALOIS-FORTIER.

In the -100kg group, world champion Jorge FONSECA (POR) will be the man to beat, which, with his risky but spectacular judo, can always happen. If it's a good day for the Portuguese athlete, it will be difficult to take the gold medal from him, but everything is possible.

There are many issues to touch on, numerous direct and indirect battles, so many interests at stake, with an eye always on the horizon. It is what it has to be in the middle of an Olympic season, as is the case in Georgia. Any detail is important, starting with the draw.

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