What a day! The Paris Grand Slam is one of the most anticipated events of the calendar and if it is expected by thousands of fans, it is because the level of the tournament is always very high. This first day of competition kept all its promises, with Japan leading the medal rankings (2 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze), just ahead of the host country which had to wait until the last final of the day to open its gold medal count (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze). In this highly competitive environment, behind France and Japan, South Korea, Kosovo, Ukraine and Canada shared the other gold medals, while a total of 12 countries climbed onto the podium.
At each major event of the circuit, Japan is expected to perform. Coming to France with a top-level women's team and a men's team looking for new talents, the Japanese armada is already on top, with the titles of Shishime Toru who won the third Grand Slam of his career and is one of the young prodigies alongside Abe Uta, whom the IJF met in November when filming the first episode of his series on Japan (https://www.ijf.org/news/show/in-the-footsteps-of-kano).
In both of her contests, ABE Uta did not even give the photographers time to set up, as she sent her two opponents to the locker room at lightning speed, in nine seconds for Eleudis VALENTIM (BRA) and 10 seconds for Ana Maria IONITA. Nobody seemed to be able to stop the ABE machine, who told us that her role model was none other than her brother Abe Hifumi, World Champion last summer in Budapest. It must be said that the girl, aged just 17, has serious credentials to become the next star of Japanese judo. A skilled and smooth operator, ABE has a fool proof physical condition and already has the experience of an old veteran of the international circuit, and after her two first matches, she was able to pass the Distria KRASNIQI (KOS) storm, before winning brilliantly in the final against the French Amandine Buchard, who seemed unable to take the lead in the final. In the opinion of the Japanese federation and all the experts of judo, Abe Uta is a real discovery who is already flying to the Olympic summits ... to be followed.
This first day of competition has been filled with other surprises, with, for example, the 17-year-old winner Daria BILODID (UKR), who won the first Grand Slam of her career in Paris. After being crowned junior world champion less than three years ago and European Senior Champion last year, she is the author of a remarkable progression especially when athletes such as the world number one, Urantsetseg MUNKHBAT (MGL) or the reigning World Champion, TONAKI Funa (JPN) were here. If nothing seems to scare BILODID, she might start to scare her opponents. The young face of the new champion is now a threat for many athletes and it will be necessary to count on her for at least one place on the podium at the next major international events.
The women were especially under the spotlight yesterday since in -57kg nobody envisaged a victory of the Canadian Christa DEGUCHI in the final. Yet the latter is not really an unknown, since in 2014 she won the silver medal at the World Junior Championships, but it was then for Japan. Last summer DEGUCHI decided to compete under the colours of Canada and it was a good choice since yesterday she won the title against the Japanese YOSHIDA Tsukasa (JPN).
Paris is the meeting point for champions from around the world, but it's also the place to be when you are passionate about sports and judo. Many personalities from the world of sports, culture or international politics are present in the stands of the AccordHotels Arena during the weekend to enjoy the show offered by the athletes. This Saturday the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports, Former Brigadier General Mrs Miri Regev, was present and spent the whole day in Bercy and presented the medals of the -73kg category.
For the French public massively present in Bercy from the first hours of the competition, the highlight of the show will remain the title of Clarisse AGBEGNENOU. It must be said that the World Champion is really at home in Paris. Supported by 15,000 spectators, she did not fail and won the gold medal without being really put in danger, to register a sixth Grand Slam win.
If the women's performances are to be highlighted after the first day, the men were not left behind, Asia taking the first two titles in -60kg with SHISHIME Toru (JPN) and in -66kg with the 2015 World Champion, An Baul (KOR). The performance of Kosovo judoka Akil GJAKOVA is also to be noted. Already a finalist in Tunis during the first event of the season, this time, he did not only reach the final, but won against the 2012 Olympic Champion and Rio 2016 bronze medallist, Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO). Kosovo, which was known and recognised for the results of its women, and especially those of its Olympic Champion Majlinda Kelmendi, now enters the circle of performing countries in men's divisions. There are definitely no more small countries in judo!