The second day of the Dushanbe Grand Slam 2024 has come to a close and the judo fans at the Kasri Tennis Arena in the Tajik capital were spoiled once again with world class judo and a silver medal for their own Behruzi Khojazoda. Here we break down the third and final day of the competition, picking out the key athletes and battles in each weight category.
Komronshokh Ustopiriyon (TJK) soaks up the crowd's affection at the Dushanbe Grand Prix 2023

-90kg: Grand Slam Gold is Calling for Ustopiriyon Local legend Komronshokh Ustopiriyon (TJK) raised the roof of the Kasri Tennis Arena several times at the inaugural Dushanbe Grand Prix 2023, as he scored throws on all four of his opponents on his way to a gold medal. He is Tajikistan’s most decorated athlete of all time in terms of the number of international medals won and comes into his home grand slam as the third seed. Though he has 11 WJT medals to his name, he has only one medal in a grand slam, a silver from Abu Dhabi in 2021. Can he win his first grand slam gold in front of his home crowd?

The number one seed and former world champion Nemanja Madjov (SRB) might have something to say about that. He has an incredible eight grand slam medals including two golds, and won his first senior European championship title back in November. His record against Ustopiriyon stands at 1-1 but the pair last fought way back in 2019 at the Qingdao Masters.

Fourth seed Klen Kristofer Kaljulaid (EST) will be itching to win himself a second grand slam medal. David Klammert (CZE), bronze medallist in Dushanbe last year, is seeded eighth and faces a potential quarter-final with Majdov. Klammert and seventh seed Juyeop Han (KOR) are not yet in a qualifying position for the Paris Olympics, so will be keen to take advantage of their seedings here.

Several unseeded players will also be looking to mount a last-minute charge up the Olympic rankings. Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Eduard Trippel has struggled with injury in the past year, Sami Chouchi (BEL) is still yet to make a major mark in the weight category since moving up from -81kg last year, and 2015 world champion Donghan Gwak (KOR) must get a good result to stay in the running.

Anna Maria Wagner vs Alina Boehm in an all-German bronze medal contest at the Tashkent Grand Slam 2024

-78kg: Double Threat for Germany and Great Britain

Germany has a remarkable three athletes in qualifying positions for the Olympic Games at -78kg: 2021 world champion Anna Maria Wagner, double European champion Alina Boehm and 3-time grand prix winner Anna Monta Olek. 21-year-old Olek’s time is likely to come later at Los Angeles 2028 but for Paris 2024, it’s a showdown between Wagner and Boehm. The former is leading the way but a favourable result for the latter in Dushanbe could easily level the scores. The pair are seeded one and two, respectively, so a mouth-watering final between them is on the cards. Wagner took silver here last year, losing out to Olek in the final.

There is a similar story for Great Britain, where the fourth seed Emma Reid leads fifth seed Natalie Powell by only a few places in the Olympic rankings. With the two drawn to meet at the quarter-final stage, another twist in the tale is guaranteed. The remaining seeded players are all in direct qualification positions, so will all be looking to solidify their places with a strong showing here.

3-time grand slam medallist Karla Prodan (CRO) will be eager to move into a qualifying position, though she faces Reid in round 1. Meanwhile, Aleksandra Babintseva (AIN), bronze medallist here last year, looks to be mounting a last-gasp challenge for an Olympic place; she trails fellow Individual Neutral Athlete Daria Kantsavaya in the rankings and both are due to compete here and in Astana next week.

Kyle Reyes (CAN) in action at the Hungary Masters 2023

-100kg: Penultimate Push for Reyes

All of the seeded players at -100kg currently occupy either a direct or continental qualification place for the Olympic Games and all will be aiming to cement those positions in Dushanbe.

However, the stakes are highest for the top seed Kyle Reyes (CAN) who lies five places behind compatriot Shady Elnahas in the Olympic rankings, a gap which widened slightly after Elnahas defeated Reyes in the final of the Panamerica-Oceania Championships last week. Elnahas is absent from Tajikistan though, meaning this grand slam is Reyes’ last chance to close the gap before both make their closing arguments for selection at the Abu Dhabi World Championships later this month. To do so, he will have to get past either eighth seed Daniel Eich (SUI) or the silver medallist here last year, Niiaz Bilalov (AIN), in the quarter-final.

Just behind Reyes in the seedings is 4-time grand slam medallist Gonchigsuren Batkhuyag (MGL) who took bronze here last year, followed closely by 3-time medallist Dzhafar Kostoev (UAE) and Paris Grand Slam 2024 bronze medallist Nurlykhan Sharkhan (KAZ). All of them will face challenges from everywhere though, not least from those athletes who find themselves just outside the Olympic places, such as Zlatko Kumric (CRO), who shared 3rdplace with Batkhuyag last year, Anton Savitskiy (UKR) and George Udsilauri (GER). With such a strong field, there will be no shortage of surprises.

Asya Tavano (ITA) defeats Milica Zabic (SRB) at the Baku Grand Slam 2024

+78kg: Tavano has the Top Ten in Her Sights

All of the world’s top 12-ranked athletes are absent from Dushanbe at +78kg but, as it stands, all of the seeded players are in Olympic qualification places, so this event offers them a fantastic opportunity to bolster their positions.

Asya Tavano (ITA) has been climbing the world rankings steadily since her first appearance on the WJT two years ago and is the top seed in the category. A gold medal here would put her not only in the top ten in the world rankings but also into a seeded position for the Olympic Games, which would be a remarkable feat for the 21-year-old. The same opportunity is available to the second seed, Milica Zabic (SRB), who will be aiming to add to her three grand slam medals but she has lost to Tavano in both of their previous encounters.

The seventh and eighth seeds, Larisa Ceric (BIH) and Sophio Somkishvili (GEO) are the only players in the category who have a winning record over Tavano, which will give them confidence ahead of the competition.

Seeded players aside, last year’s silver medallist here, Samira Bouizgarne (GER), will be hoping to close a vast gap on her counterpart Renee Lucht in the Olympic rankings. Daria Vladimirova (AIN), Tulika Maan (IND) and Kinga Wolszczak (POL), all of whom appeared in the final block here in 2023, will also be looking to move closer to qualification with a medal at this event.

Teddy Riner (FRA) throws Temur Rakhimov (TJK) in the semi-final of the World Judo Championships - Doha 2023

+100kg: Rakhimov and Riner Rematch on the Cards

At the time, it was one of the most highly-anticipated contests in the +100kg category: the then 10-time world champion and judo legend Teddy Riner (FRA) versus longtime world number one and fellow giant Temur Rakhimov (TJK). But it was a fight that was ended prematurely by a moment of brilliance from Riner. The pair met in the semi-final of the World Judo Championships – Doha 2023 and the Frenchman threw his opponent with an enormous harai-goshi to score ippon in just 26 seconds.

With Rakhimov and Riner seeded first and second in Dushanbe, the former will relish the chance to put that rapid defeat right, in front of his home crowd, should they both win through to the final. Riner is in top form, having won the 2024 Paris and Antalya grand slams. This will be Rakhimov’s first WJT appearance in 9 months since winning silver at the Hungary Masters 2023, where he lost out to the third seed here, 2023 European champion Marti Puumalainen (FIN). The Finnish athlete has never faced Riner in competition but could meet him at the semi-final stage.

Germany’s Erik Abramov and Losseni Kone are seeded sixth and seventh, respectively, and are neck-and-neck in the race for Olympic qualification for their country. Many unseeded players will need a good result here if they are to have any chance of qualifying, including Munir Ertug (TUR), Yerassyl Kazhybayev (KAZ) and Kacper Szczurowski (POL) but they will have an extremely difficult time getting past the seeded players.

Day 3 of the Dushanbe Grand Slam 2024 promises to be a spectacular end to what has already been a tremendous event. Keep up with all of the action as it unfolds, live on from 11:00 local time on Sunday 5th May.

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