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If organising a competition of this size in Cuba is a challenge, it was perfectly done by the organising committee of the Cuban Judo Federation, supported by the International Judo Federation. Throughout the weekend, the level of judo was highly noted and it is clear that all eyes are now turning gradually towards Rio, which will host the Olympic Games in August. Obvisouly many athletes already have their virtual ticket for Brazil in their pocket, but this is not the case for everyone yet, and even the very best, are eager to get some extra points which will be very important when it comes to the draw of the Olympics.
Waiting for the big event, it was 425 fights that took place during the three days of competition in Havana, giving a perfume of increasing concurrence to this 2016 season that opened in the Cuban capital. Some confirmed their good January form, but they will have to stand the distance. Others have shown their weaknesses and now know what they have to improve if they want to reach the Rio podium in a few months from now.
The lights went out under the tent of the World Judo Tour which will now travel back to Europe where the next Paris Grand Slam 2016 will take place on February 6-7. 650 competitors from a hundred countries are already registered for this monument of the World Judo Tour that is the Paris Grand Slam.
Mr. Vladimir Barta, IJF Head Sports Director, said at the end of the competition: “We had a really great event here in Havana and it was fantastic to see how much the public understand judo. They know and appreciate the winner even if this is against a local athlete. The Cuban public really showed fairplay. It’s also important to see that even if the conditions are not always easy to organise a Grand Prix here, everyone puts 100% effort to deliver the best event possible. Cuba is a warm country with people with a big heart. 2016 is obviously a crucial season for all athletes and the organisers. This is the first time that we launch the tour in Pan-America and this year the first ever Olympic Games will be held in South America. I see that as a positive sign and I am sure it will bring luck over our sport.“
The friendship between Cuba and USA was a reality during the Havana Grand Prix 2016, Cuba
The first big surprise of the day came from the defeat of the reigning Olympic champion, Kayla Harrison (USA), who could not escape the trap set by JOO Abigel (HUN). This victory of the Hungarian sounds like a little revenge. In 2012, during the London Olympic Games, JOO was largely leading her contest (waza-ari) against the future Olympic champion when she was seriously wounded (knee), thus allowing the American to regain the advantage and win the title while JOO failed at the bottom of the podium. Today, working seriously throughout the fight, the Hungarian won her bout with the smallest difference possible (one penalty), but this was enough to enter the final where she met the solid Luise Malzahn (GER).
A right hander (MALZAHN) against a left-hander (JOO) always ends up with complicated situation where the key is to catch the opponent’s sleeve. That is exactly what the two athletes tried to do for most of the final. After a tricky situation which could have ended with a throw from any side, JOO engaged her homemade uchi-mata but was smart enough to leave her foot hooked. When MALZAHN tried to counterattack, she was simply thrown on her back for a perfect ippon and a great victory for the Hungarian.
The first bronze medal fight of the women’s -78kg opposed silver medallist of the 2014 Baku Grand Slam, Assunta GALEONE (ITA) and the silver medallist of the 2015 World Judo Masters in Morocco, Natalie POWELL (GBR). GALEONE did not offer a small chance to POWELL and having scored a yuko immobilized her for ippon.
Having been defeated in the semi-final, Kayla HARRISON still had one chance to step on the podium as she faced Yalennis CASTILLO, but being in front of her public, the Cuban had an extra-motivation. HARRISON who expected a different issue for this competition, stepped on the tatami very motivated thoughout and was close to winning with an armlock before the half of the fight. But CASTILLO escaped. Much less active than her glorious opponent, the Cuban was penalised with a shido. During the fight, as a beautiful symbol of what sport and judo can generate, a Cuban and an American flag were waved side-by-side in the stands and at the end of the fight, which was finally won by the Olympic Champion, both athletes warmly congratulated one another. As Kayla HARRISON stepped out of the tatami, she immediately declared that she will offer her prize money to CASTILLO: “She needs it more than I do. She was a fantastic contender. She definitely deserves it. She has a child and I am sure that it will help her.“
JOO, Abigel (HUN) vs. MALZAHN, Luise (GER)
Bronze Medal Fights
GALEONE, Assunta (ITA) vs. POWELL, Natalie (GBR)
CASTILLO, Yalennis (CUB) vs. HARRISON, Kayla (USA)
1. JOO, Abigel (HUN)
2. MALZAHN, Luise (GER)
3. GALEONE, Assunta (ITA)
3. HARRISON, Kayla (USA)
5. CASTILLO, Yalennis (CUB)
5. POWELL, Natalie (GBR)
7. DMITRIEVA, Anastasiya (RUS)
7. KACHOROVSKAYA, Alena (RUS)
Obviously the public came in numbers to see ‘its’ Olympic Champion, Idalys ORTIZ, in action throughout the day. And the thousands of spectators were not disappointed as the always smiling and relaxed ORTIZ managed to step into the final without really being endangered by her successive opponents. In the final, in front of her audience, the Olympic and former world champion was opposed to the one who was considered as an outsider in the morning of the competition. Indeed, Lucie LOUETTE KANNING (FRA) has an unusual background which makes her story even more beautiful today. Leader in her category (-78kg) in France a few years ago, she was blocked by a young athlete of incomparable power, Audrey TCHEUMEO (FRA) who became world champion. Lucie LOUETTTE KANNING decided to go up in the + 78kg weight category, where athletes are much heavier than her. Things seemed to go well for the French, until she seriously injured her knee. A surgery and months of rehabilitation later, she is back on the tatami for a new chapter of her career.
This must have been something impressive for the French to enter the stadium under the hurrahs of the crowd, which came here with one aim: to see their hero, Idalys ORTIZ. Having the full support of the public, nevertheless cheering with fairplay for LOUETTTE KANNING as well, the current Olympic champion awaited the first little mistake of her opponent to send her into a huge rolling movement for a ippon and for the delight of all the spectators.
The first bronze medal fight opposed Maria Suelen ALTHEMAN (BRA), two times finalist of the World Championships (2013 and 2014) and the bronze medalist of the last pan-american championships, Vanessa ZAMBOTTI (MEX) who scored the first yuko as both athletes were entering the last minute of the bout. ZAMBOTTI could explode with joy as the final gong echoed in the venue.
Svitlana IAROMKA (UKR) and Melissa MOJICA (PUR) were the last two athletes qualified for the second bronze medal fight and IAROMKA immobilized her opponent for ippon.
ORTIZ, Idalys (CUB) vs. LOUETTE KANNING, Lucie (FRA)
Bronze Medal Fights
ALTHEMAN, Maria Suelen (BRA) vs. ZAMBOTTI, Vanessa (MEX)
IAROMKA, Svitlana (UKR) vs. MOJICA, Melissa (PUR)
1. ORTIZ, Idalys (CUB)
2. LOUETTE KANNING, Lucie (FRA)
3. IAROMKA, Svitlana (UKR)
3. ZAMBOTTI, Vanessa (MEX)
5. ALTHEMAN, Maria Suelen (BRA)
5. MOJICA, Melissa (PUR)
7. CUTRO-KELLY, Nina (USA)
7. KINDZERSKA, Iryna (UKR)
If the popular Idalys ORTIZ was the most awaited Cuban athlete today, the 2013 World Champion, Asley GONZALES, had also the full support of his public in a category which was particularly strong. Number two seeded, GONZALES was expecting to meet TOTH Krisztian (HUN) in the final, which is what actually happened. The 2014 World silver medalist went through the preliminary rounds without shaking.
Apparently the two men know each other, but despite their friendship, they both went on the tatami with the desire to win. The first throwing attempt came from TOTH, but that was perfectly blocked by the Cuban, who then launch a powerful left handed drop-seoi-nage which put TOTH off balance but once again for no score. After an unsuccessful yoko-tomoe-nage attempt, the Hungarian was penalised with a shido. With a lot of experience, then GONZALES controlled the end of the final. Stuck on the edge of the fighting area, the Cuban was about to step out, which would have given him a shido, but very strategically he launched an attack to avoid the shido. The smallest point difference was enough to designate the winner, Asley GONZALEZ, who proved all his experience in such a kind of fight. Both athletes had a big smile at the end. They both knew that they gave everything and they mutually raised their arms under the hurrahs of the public.
With the final seeing the two top seeded athletes competing for gold, only another seeded athlete, Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB) was able to enter the final block for bonze. He was opposed to CHENG Xunzhao (CHN) in the second bronze medal fight. The first bronze medal contest saw Ciril GROSSKLAUS (SUI) and Quedjau NHABALI (UKR), trying to find a spot on the podium.
The first bronze medal fight started with a slow pace, as GROSSKLAUS and NHABALI were trying to test each other but then NHABALI was penalised a first time with a shido, which was actually enough for the Swiss to win the bronze.
In the second bronze medal contest, KUKOLJ was the first to attack for no score, but a few seconds later he was able to score a yuko with a ko-uchi-gake. Apparently being weak on his back side, CHENG was again spectacularly thrown by KUKOLJ for a second yuko as he landed on his side. The third yuko for the Serbian came from a left-handed uchi-mata with two minutes remaining on the scoreboard. The question was, will CHENG Xunzhao be able to resist until the end the attacks of his opponent as KUKOLJ continued to have a very positive attitude throughout the bout. The answer was yes, but both athletes delivered a really beautiful fight.
TOTH, Krisztian (HUN) vs. GONZALEZ, Asley (CUB)
Bronze Medal Fights
GROSSKLAUS, Ciril (SUI) vs. NHABALI, Quedjau (UKR)
CHENG, Xunzhao (CHN) vs. KUKOLJ, Aleksandar (SRB)
1. GONZALEZ, Asley (CUB)
2. TOTH, Krisztian (HUN)
3. GROSSKLAUS, Ciril (SUI)
3. KUKOLJ, Aleksandar (SRB)
5. CHENG, Xunzhao (CHN)
5. NHABALI, Quedjau (UKR)
7. GERASIMENKO, Dmitri (SRB)
7. VOPROSOV, Kirill (RUS)
The world number one and winner of the World Judo Masters in 2015 was the ultimate favourite of the category. After a first fight won against HU Kai (CHN), Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) was facing Kazbek ZANKISHIEV (RUS), who was not among the favourites but the Russian was not afraid by the prize list of his famous opponent and defeated him by ippon before being defeated himself by future finalist Artem BLOSHENKO (UKR). The Ukrainian found on his way to the title, another gold medal hopeful as world number 5 and world silver medallist, Karl-Richard FREY (GER) also qualified for the final.
The final started as a battle of strong men and quickly gave the feeling that it would not run until the end. FREY was penalised two times for a gripping error before BLOSHENKO unbalanced him with a ko-soto-gari for ippon. In a category which is still very open, and with his last win on the occasion of a Grand Prix being back in 2014 at the Tbilisi Grand Prix, BLOSHENKO will score some important points for the Olympic qualification.
Today was definitely a good day for team Hungary as CIRJENICS Miklos (HUN) qualified for the first bronze medal fight against Adlan BISULTANOV (RUS). Multiplying the small mistakes, BISULTANOV was penalised with three shido, while CIRJENICS only got one, the Hungarian adding one more medal to his delegation’s prize list, which was impressive on that last day of competition in Havana.
The second bronze medal of the category was decided between 2013 World Champion and the Emirati athlete, Ivan REMARENCO. But MAMMADOV rapidly broke REMARENCO’s hopes for a medal and with a powerful soto-makikomi, powered his opponent into the tatami for ippon.
BLOSHENKO, Artem (UKR) vs. FREY, Karl-Richard (GER)
Bronze Medal Fights
CIRJENICS, Miklos (HUN) vs. BISULTANOV, Adlan (RUS)
MAMMADOV, Elkhan (AZE) vs. REMARENCO, Ivan (UAE)
1. BLOSHENKO, Artem (UKR)
2. FREY, Karl-Richard (GER)
3. CIRJENICS, Miklos (HUN)
3. MAMMADOV, Elkhan (AZE)
5. BISULTANOV, Adlan (RUS)
5. REMARENCO, Ivan (UAE)
7. PETERS, Dimitri (GER)
7. ZANKISHIEV, Kazbek (RUS)
In the absence of Teddy Riner, unquestionable world number one, who will be back on the tatami in Paris in a few weeks from now, the last final of the day and of the event opposed the veteran and winner of the 2015 Baku Grand Slam, BOR Barna (HUN) and the giant Renat SAIDOV (RUS), both athletes having been the two top seeded competitors of the category.
If BOR Barna stepped out of the tatami with a big smile, it was not because he won the title, but actually because he lost. That might sound surprising, but SAIDOV’s uchi-mata was so perfect and so sudden (6 seconds only) that the Hungarian could only smile, first at his mistake, but also at the fantastic opportunist attack of the Russian giant.
The first bronze medal contest of the men’s heavyweights saw the second Russian, Andrey VOLKOV (RUS) facing the local Alex GARCIA MENDOZA (CUB). After a minute, both athletes were already penalised with a shido when GARCIA MENDOZA engaged a o-uchi-gari for yuko, which he could keep until the end of the contest to add one more medal for Cuba.
For the second bronze medal contest, the bronze medallist of the last Tashkent Grand Prix 2014, Daniel ALLERSTORFER (AUT) was opposed to Andre BREITBARTH (GER), who already obtained a bronze medal in Abu Dhabi last season. Less than a minute was enough for BREITBARTH to score a superb de-ashi-barai for waza-ari before concluding with an arm-lock.
BOR, Barna (HUN) vs. SAIDOV, Renat (RUS)
Bronze Medal Fights
VOLKOV, Andrey (RUS) vs. GARCIA MENDOZA, Alex (CUB)
ALLERSTORFER, Daniel (AUT) vs. BREITBARTH, Andre (GER)
1. SAIDOV, Renat (RUS)
2. BOR, Barna (HUN)
3. BREITBARTH, Andre (GER)
3. GARCIA MENDOZA, Alex (CUB)
5. ALLERSTORFER, Daniel (AUT)
5. VOLKOV, Andrey (RUS)
7. FIGUEROA, Freddy (ECU)
7. TAYEB, Mohammed Amine (ALG)
IJF Media & Communications Department
Nicolas Messner, IJF Media Director
Mark Pickering, IJF Media Manager
Photos © IJF Media by G. Sabau and Dan O'Connell
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