JUNIOR ATHLETES SET THEIR SIGHTS HIGH IN SOFIA

Sofia European Open

The IJF tour opened the judo calendar for European athletes last week in the Tel Aviv Grand Prix, Israel, seeing a great amount of success for the continent’s judoka in this Olympic cycle. 

The IJF tournament set the standards on the world tour, motivating the athletes that will take the stage this week in the opening European Judo events of 2019. 

The city of Sofia in Bulgaria, will play host to the women’s European Open, welcoming an array of title holders to the tatami, day one seeing the lighter weight categories battling for the gold medal.

The -48kg category has a host of young women on the rise, including Israeli 18 year-old, Tamar MALCA. Though MALCA saw a second round exit to Guangzhou Masters bronze medallist, Marusa STANGAR (SLO) in Tel Aviv, the youngster picked up an emotional bronze in the U23 European Championships. The Cadet European Championship silver medallist has shown promise as a cadet and is now looking to prove her worth on the senior circuit. 

The #1 seed, Gulkader SENTURK (TUR) has already left her mark on the senior stage with a bronze in the Antalya Grand Prix as well as a European Open silver in Warsaw, undoubtedly she will be looking to make it a gold this weekend. 

Spanish athlete, Estrella LOPEZ SHERIFF is heading the -52kg category, gaining points last year in the Dusseldorf Grand Slam, taking home the bronze. Team mate Nina Estefania ESTEO LINNE follows closely as #3, but between the Spanish women is Fabienne KOCHER (SUI). The Swiss athlete fought tremendously in Tel Aviv, upsetting the home crowd in the bronze fight seeing out Gefen PRIMO (ISR). 

2016 European Championship medallist Ivelina ILIEVA (BUL) has experience under her belt and some Grand Prix medals to boast, adding to those by taking the bronze in the Tel Aviv Grand Prix against IJF tour veteran KARAKAS Hedvig (HUN). ILIEVA will lead the -57kg category, Jaione EQUISOAIN (ESP) and Sappho COBAN (GER) as #2 and #3.

2018 U23 European Champion, Lubjana PIOVESANA (GBR), tops the seeding of the -63kg category. The 22 year-old Junior World bronze medallist took a bronze in the Tbilisi Grand Prix in 2018 as well as her first gold at a European Open in Minsk. Hot on PIOVESANA's heels is Maelle DI CINTIO of France, also a European Open champion in Glasgow last year and took a succssful Grand Slam bronze in Ekaterinburg. 

On the second day we see the remaining categories take to the tatami, -70kg, -78kg and +78kg.

Recently celebrating her birthday and moving higher in the WRL following a stellar performance in Israel, Spanish athlete, Sara RODRIGUEZ will lead the -70kg category. RODRIGUEZ displayed promise as a junior, taking multiple European Championship medals before moving to seniors, and has transferred her abilities, taking a European Open gold at home in Madrid, followed by an U23 European Championship silver.

Though experiencing a quiet 2018, the #2 seed, Junior World silver medallist Aleksandra SAMARDZIC (BIH), looks set to return to the tatami in 2019 to claim senior status following a successful junior career. Laura VARGAS KOCH (GER) Olympic and World medallist, comes in as #3, with a wealth of experience behind her. 

It seems many juniors are looking to oust their senior counterparts, including German #1 seed in the -78kg category, Teresa ZENKER. The junior World silver medallist will start the year in Sofia before the Dusseldorf Grand Slam at the end of the month. 

Similarly, German team mate, Samira BOUZINGARNE started her senior transition in 2018, picking up multiple European Cup medals including a bronze in both Bratislava and Celje Podcetrtek, as well as a solid 5th place in the Dusseldorf Grand Slam. Competing against BOUIZGARNE for the gold is the U23 European Championships bronze medallist and #2, KARPATI Emese (HUN) who took the silver medal in the Glasgow European Open in 2018.

By Thea Cowen

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