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Pending the Rio 2016 Olympic gathering, from 9:00am this morning, all eyes were on the two fighting areas of the Sports City Coliseum in Havana, where 388 competitors from 66 countries will compete for the title of champion of the second edition of Havana Grand Prix, over the next three days. For this first day of competition, 128 athletes were engaged in the women’s -48kg, -52kg and -57kg categories and the men’s -60kg and -66kg divisions.
For Mr. Rafael Manso Reyes, President of the Cuban Judo Federation, today is a special day: “I am a happy man, a very happy man for my country and for our sport. Judo is a leading sport in Cuba and having an event organised in our territory that gives points for the Olympic qualification means a lot. The Cuban people and the Cuban Judo family is very proud today. This is the second edition of the Grand Prix here, but I can say that never ever before have we had an event of such an importance. I thank the International Judo Federation, the Minister of Sports and of course the Cuban Judo Federation who did everything possible for the Grand Prix to be organised.“
The opening ceremony of the Grand Prix started just before the final block with a performance by famous Romanian singer, Marcel Pavel. This was just before the delegations entered the stadium and the Cuban anthem was played.
Dr. C. Antonio Becali Garrido, President of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation of Cuba, then took the floor and declared: “José Ramon Fernandez, President of the Cuban Olympic Committee, Mr. Marius Vizer, President of the International Judo Federation, Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Cuba, Officers of the IJF, dear guests, ladies and Gentlemen. Once again we assume with pride the privilege to receive a high quality event which gathers several of the best judoka in the world and adds an additional dose of rivalry in the middle of the fight for the Olympic qualifications. The second Grand Prix in Havana gathers an important number of athletes and countries and qualifies among the largest events in its type hosted in our country. As the result of the high convening power of this sport and the strength of the organisation we have confidence placed in us by the International Federation whose President honours us again with his presence. Cuba welcomes you with its known hospitality and a deep sense of commitment with the undertaken responsibilities and at the same time we are grateful for the possibility to humbly contribute to what will certainly be the show everybody expects and deserves. We welcome you all and may the best athletes win.“
Before declaring the Havana Grand Prix 2016, in Cuba, open, the IJF President, Mr. Marius Vizer, said: “Mr. President Fermandes, Mr. Minister of the Sport, dear Nadia Comaneci, dear Colleagues and friends. Sometimes there are dreams that cannot be achieved without a strong willingness and commitment of everyone despite the difficulties. This is the spirit of our sport and of the Cuban people. We are here today to honour the force and spirit of Cuban sport. I wish all of you a successful competition. All the best and a nice stay in Cuba. Thank you.“
On the occasion of the opening ceremony, Mr. Marius Vizer was presented with a special present from Cuba. Then the IJF President presented the IJF Golden Medal to Mr. Ronaldo Veitia, in recognition of his incredible career as the head coach of the Cuban National Team. Mr. Veitia retired from his position, after the Tokyo Grand Slam, at the end of 2015. Mr. Vizer said: “Dear Ronaldo, I want to thank you very much for everything you did for Cuban Judo, continental and world judo. Thank you very much and good luck for the future.“
To conclude the opening ceremony a cultural program was proposed to the numerous audience.
IJF VIP guests, Cuban officials and former Cuban Olympic Champions were invited tonight to the IJF Cultural Gala, which took place at the Hotel Nacional. Inaugurated in 1930 the building is considered as one of the emblems of Havana and is inscribed at the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The gala was held in the ‘Salon 1930’ where the famous Cuban singer, Compay Segundo, used to sing. During is welcome speech, Mr. Marius Vizer, the IJF President said: “It is a great pleasure and honor to organize for the second time the Havana Grand Prix. A lot of efforts had to be made from everyone to deliver the best for the athletes. This event is also a nice promotion for Cuban sports and for the whole country in general. Thank you to all of you for the solidarity and the support. I wish you all the best for the last two days of competition.“
Then Ms. Nadia Comaneci, former Olympic Champion declared: “Thank you Marius, thank you Mr. President, for all what you have done and what you do for sports. What you have done with judo is outstanding. The effort to take the risk to bring such a big event in Cuba is incredible. I came here 25 years ago. I travel a lot and I can tell you that it is difficult to find a place where you feel like at home. Cuba is one of those destinations. I wish you a great competition.“
Before the cultural program started, it was the turn of Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro, to take the floor: “Thank you for giving the chance to Cuba to organize a Grand Prix. Judo teaches values. It teaches how to win but also how to lose and it gives the opportunity to athletes to share their experience. Focusing on the youth is very important for us. Mr. President, you are an inspiration to all of us.“
From left to right: Mr. Antonio Castro and his wife, Ms. Nadia Comaneci, Mr. and Mrs. Vizer
The cultural programme featured several great national and international artists. Among them was Marcel Pavel, who already sang during the opening ceremony of the event and who once again entertained the audience with some of the greatest classic songs of the repertoire. The Academy of Singing Mariana de Gonich was also present on stage together with Ms. Zenaida Armenteros, Queen of Cuban folklore, and Mrs. Maria Eugenia Barrios, soprano, Glory of the Cuban Culture.
That sounds like the mantra of Kayla Harrison, reigning Olympic champion and world number one (women’s -78kg), who will fight in Havana in two days’ time. She was already present today in the stands of the Sports City Coliseum to cheer on her teammates of the USA national team. This was a great opportunity to meet the American who is already considered as the favourite to retain her title in Rio this summer: “I had a really nice Christmas break after the last competitions of 2015 but now I am ready to fight again. You know the more I fight, the better I am, so coming to Havana, which is so close from home, is really a great opportunity to prepare the season.“
Talking about her spirit of being the reigning Olympic champion, Kayla said: “When I went to London, I wanted so badly the Olympic title, and I knew that it was possible, but I was not sure that I could do it. I had no guarantee. The difference today is that I know that I am capable. I might end up with no medal, but for sure I’ll do everything possible to win again in Brazil. I am relaxed, I feel relaxed and I am excited to fight here and in the upcoming months. For the moment, it is just about waiting, waiting for the final day. But I am not afraid to win. Every time I come to a competition, I just keep telling myself that I am the best, I am the best, I am the best.“
But if Kayla Harrison is already looking towards the next Olympic Games, she explained: “Oh, after London I already said that I would stop, and I kept going on. So today, I don’t know yet. I am focused on Rio but I also know that there will be an end to my career and I look beyond the Games. The scariest thing for me would be to have no goal in life and that does not only concern judo. For sure I want to stay involved even if I don’t know how though. I want to give back to the sport, what it gave to me.“
Click here to view the ongoing Rio 2016 Olympic qualification list.
The most awaited athlete of the day in the women’s -48kg category was without any doubt the Argentinian and current world champion, Paula PARETO, who came back to competition today with a brand new red back number. If her first fight went very well as she defeated Amelie ROSSENEU (ISR) by ippon, PARETO, her route was blocked by the world number 20 and World Masters 2013 bronze medallist, Dayaris MESTRE ALVAREZ (CUB), who definitely benefited from the support of her home crowd to achieve such a performance. In the absence of PARETO in the final, the current Olympic champion, who looks to be on an ascendant slope towards Rio 2016, entered the final to face Shira RISHONY (ISR), whose best result last year was a bronze medal at the Paris Grand Slam. But knowing that the Paris Grand Slam in 2015 was in October, this clearly shows that RISHONY also follows a positive ascension.
After 37 seconds in the final, both athletes were penalised with a first shido for passivity. But it did not take long for MENEZES to launch a beautiful drop-seoi-nage for a clear and perfect ippon. MENEZES looks in good shape at the beginning of this season and after her Olympic title in London and two difficult following years, she is back on track to defend her title in her home country in August.
After her disillusion during the preliminary rounds, Paula PARETO did not fail against her second Cuban opponent of the day as she defeated Yanisleidi PONCIANO by ippon. To step onto the podium, she was opposed to a third Cuban athlete, Melissa HURTADO MUNOZ. HURTADO MUNOZ immediately put her strong right arm over PARETO’s head, but that did not bother the world champion, who scored a first superb waza-ari, with a drop seoi-nage with only one sleeve. But PARETO’s second attack was not precise enough, and the Cuban could counter-attack for a yuko. Stil behind, HURTADO MUNOZ launched a strong sumi-gaeshi, which make the public react, but for no score. With less than a minute to go, the Argentinian launched a last drop seoi-nage for ippon this time.
The second bronze medal fight opposed Laetitia PAYET (FRA), who earlier defeated world number 9, Taciana LIMA-BALDE (GBS), during the preliminary rounds and Dayaris MESTRE ALVAREZ (CUB). After three minutes, only one penalty was given to the French who could not find the solution against the Cuban. This shido was enough to give the victory and first medal to the Cuban delegation.
MENEZES, Sarah (BRA) vs. RISHONY, Shira (ISR)
Bronze Medal Fights
PARETO, Paula (ARG) vs. HURTADO MUNOZ, Melissa (CUB)
PAYET, Laetitia (FRA) vs. MESTRE ALVAREZ, Dayaris (CUB)
1. MENEZES, Sarah (BRA)
2. RISHONY, Shira (ISR)
3. MESTRE ALVAREZ, Dayaris (CUB)
3. PARETO, Paula (ARG)
5. HURTADO MUNOZ, Melissa (CUB)
5. PAYET, Laetitia (FRA)
7. LOKMANHEKIM, Dilara (TUR)
7. PONCIANO, Yanisleidi (CUB)
Mareen KRAEH (GER), bronze medalist on the occasion of the 2013 World Championships in Rio, was the top seeded athlete of the category and with no surprise entered the final after having successively defeated Ecaterina GUICA (CAN), Evelyne TSCHOPP (SUI) and Joana AMOS (POR). In the final she was opposed to the veteran of the competition, Ilse HEYLEN. The 38-year-old Belgium athlete showed once again that she has an incredible fighting spirit.
Her coach and husband for ten years, Olivier Berghmans, declared just before the final: “It’s an incredible story for Ilse. With today’s results, gold or silver, she will probably have enough points to go to the Olympics. She feels super well. Of course we had to adapt the training and focus more on quality than on quantity and tomorrow she will have sore muscles, that’s for sure. I even have to slow her down sometimes. With today’s result, she is again super motivated.“
In the final, Ilse HEYLEN was rapidly thrown by Mareen KRAEK for waza-ari followed by an immobilisation for ippon. Nevertheless, HEYLEN’s performance is remarkable and the gold medal of KRAEH is well deserved.
The first bronze medal fight opposed Gretel ROMERO (CUB) and Odette GIUFFRIDA (ITA). Both athletes having been penalised with a shido, looked ready to fight into the golden score when GIUFFRIDA found a small opportunity with an opportunist ko-uchi-gari for yuko and for a medal.
In the second bronze medal contest, ADIYASAMBUU Tsolmon (MGL) faced Joana RAMOS (POR). After having scored a first yuko, Ramos was then penalised for escaping out of the fighting area. More active than her opponent, the Mongolian was finally able to throw RAMOS with a kata-guruma for waza-ari, which the Portuguese replied also with a waza-ari. But that did not intimidate ADIYASAMBUU, who, with the same technique (kata-guruma) scored another yuko, which was revised as an ippon.
KRAEH, Mareen (GER) vs. HEYLEN, Ilse (BEL)
Bronze Medal Fights
ROMERO, Gretel (CUB) vs. GIUFFRIDA, Odette (ITA)
ADIYASAMBUU, Tsolmon (MGL) vs. RAMOS, Joana (POR)
1. KRAEH, Mareen (GER)
2. HEYLEN, Ilse (BEL)
3. ADIYASAMBUU, Tsolmon (MGL)
3. GIUFFRIDA, Odette (ITA)
5. RAMOS, Joana (POR)
5. ROMERO, Gretel (CUB)
7. SCHWARTZ, Roni (ISR)
7. TSCHOPP, Evelyne (SUI)
In the women’s -57kg, once again the top seeded athlete, Marti MALLOY (USA) confirmed her position and entered the final after having defeated the 2013 World Champion Rafaela SILVA (BRA) in the semi-final. In the final she was opposed to world number nine and European Games silver medallist KARAKAS Hedvig (HUN) who produced one of the most beautiful ippons of the day in the semi-final when she executed a perfect ashi-waza technique within a few seconds against Viola WAECHTER (GER).
During the four minutes of regular time, both champions perfectly neutralised each other and were not capable of scoring. The same scenario took place during the golden score as the referee had to wait more than three minutes to give a first shido to KARAKAS, offering the victory to the American.
The first bronze medal fights opposed Nora GJAKOVA (IJF) and Viola WAECHTER (GER). The first score came from Nora GJAKOVA, who with an ample o-uchi-gari took the lead with a waza-ari. This was enough to give her the victory and the bronze medal.
In the second bronze medal fight, Catherine BEAUCHEMIN-PINARD (CAN) opposed Rafaela SILVA (BRA). Visibly dominated by the strong grip of her opponent, SILVA seemed incapable of accelerating. But she could count on a small mistake from the Canadian to throw her with a counterattack for waza-ari. If in -48kg MENEZES looks back on top of her form, this is not yet the case for SILVA, but the way to Rio is still full of opportunities and for sure the 2013 World Champion will do her best to run for gold in her home country on the occasion of the upcoming Olympic Games.
MALLOY, Marti (USA) vs. KARAKAS, Hedvig (HUN)
Bronze Medal Fights
GJAKOVA, Nora (IJF) vs. WAECHTER, Viola (GER)
BEAUCHEMIN-PINARD, Catherine (CAN) vs. SILVA, Rafaela (BRA)
1. MALLOY, Marti (USA)
2. KARAKAS, Hedvig (HUN)
3. GJAKOVA, Nora (IJF)
3. SILVA, Rafaela (BRA)
5. BEAUCHEMIN-PINARD, Catherine (CAN)
5. WAECHTER, Viola (GER)
7. PODOLAK, Arleta (POL)
7. ROPER, Miryam (GER)
The final of the day in the men’s -60kg category opposed the 2015 Pan-American silver medallist, Eric TAKABATAKE (BRA) and Bekir OZLU (TUR), who was not among the favorites of the competition but who showed beautiful and opportunist judo throughout the day. Due to an injury, Bekir OZLU (TUR) could not compete and Eric TAKABATAKE won the second gold medal of the day for Brazil.
With Ahmet Sahin KABA (TUR), Turkey placed a second athlete in the final block. For the bronze medal, he was opposed to Armenian Hovhannes DAVTYAN. But the Turkish judoka was rapidly injured and had to stop the fight offering the victory to Hovhannes DAVTYAN.
The two top seeded athletes of the category, who were defeated earlier during the day, Sharafuddin LUTFILLAEV (UZB) and Orkhan SAFAROV (AZE) were opposed in the second bronze medal contest. LUTFILLAEV took the lead with a first yuko and was controlling the fight when SAFAROV also scored a yuko which was immediately followed on the floor with an immobilisation for ippon.
TAKABATAKE, Eric (BRA) vs. OZLU, Bekir (TUR)
Bronze Medal Fights
KABA, Ahmet Sahin (TUR) vs. DAVTYAN, Hovhannes (ARM)
LUTFILLAEV, Sharafuddin (UZB) vs. SAFAROV, Orkhan (AZE)
1. TAKABATAKE, Eric (BRA)
2. OZLU, Bekir (TUR)
3. DAVTYAN, Hovhannes (ARM)
3. SAFAROV, Orkhan (AZE)
5. KABA, Ahmet Sahin (TUR)
5. LUTFILLAEV, Sharafuddin (UZB)
7. KITADAI, Felipe (BRA)
7. MCKENZIE, Ashley (GBR)
Among the top 8 athletes of the category, five entered the final block of the category, Loïc KORVAL confirming his top seeded position with serious and consistent fights throughout the preliminary rounds. In the final he was opposed to the winner of the first edition of the European Games in Baku last year, Kamal KHAN-MAGOMEDOV (RUS). The first minute and a half went quickly as both athletes were fighting for a good grip in a very dynamic way. After two minutes, KORVAL launched a first strong o-soto-gari, which was immediately counterattacked by the Russian but for no score. Multiplying the small mistakes, KHAN-MAGOMEDOV was penalised twice giving a small advantage to the French. Suddenly, KHAN-MAGOMEDOV could score a first yuko with a sutemi-waza technique. KORVAL was pushing to be able to score as well and he finally did it, but right after the end of the fight, the final gong saving KHAN-MAGOMEDOV’s gold medal.
For the first bronze medal, Charles CHIBANA (BRA), winner of the Tyumen Grand Slam in 2014, was opposed to Elio VERDE from Italy. With two shidos on his side, VERDE had to run after CHIBANA for the hope of a medal. He finally succeeded to step onto the podium when he scored a well deserved waza-ari, with a drop seoi-nage.
The second bronze medal contest saw Sebastian SEIDL (GER) and Vazha MARGVELASHVILI (GEO) stepping on the tatami for place on the podium. After five minutes, only penalties were distributed: three to SEIDL and only one to MARGVELASHVILI, which gave the victory to the Georgian.
KORVAL, Loic (FRA) vs. KHAN-MAGOMEDOV, Kamal (RUS)
Bronze Medal Fights
CHIBANA, Charles (BRA) vs. VERDE, Elio (ITA)
SEIDL, Sebastian (GER) vs. MARGVELASHVILI, Vazha (GEO)
1. KHAN-MAGOMEDOV, Kamal (RUS)
2. KORVAL, Loic (FRA)
3. MARGVELASHVILI, Vazha (GEO)
3. VERDE, Elio (ITA)
5. CHIBANA, Charles (BRA)
5. SEIDL, Sebastian (GER)
7. MA, Duanbin (CHN)
7. ZOURDANI, Houd (ALG)
9:00 preliminaries on 2 tatami
17:00 final block on 1 tatami
Women: -63kg, -70kg
Men: -73kg, -81kg
9:00 preliminaries on 2 tatami
17:00 final block on 1 tatami
Women: -78kg, +78kg
Men: -90kg, -100kg, +100kg
Location: Sport City Coliseum, Havana, Cuba
IJF Media & Communications Department
Nicolas Messner, IJF Media Director
Mark Pickering, IJF Media Manager
Photos © IJF Media by G. Sabau, Nicolas Messner
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