On day one of the Heydar Aliyev Baku Grand Slam 2023, Kosovo, Japan and the hosts, Azerbaijan doubled up on their chances for gold medals.
The Azeri judoka were nice surprises for the home crowd, given that their assumed chances of medals and glory saw early exits. The ultimate champion for the hosts was Yashar NAJAFOV, the unseeded athlete in the -66kg category, and now that Orkhan SAFAROV has announced his retirement, is the front runner for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.
Najafov defeated the number two seed, Elios MANZI (ITA) and battled his way through his opponents, eventually besting all three of the medallists today; David GARCIA TORNE (ESP), Denis VIERU (MDA) and finally, TAKEOKA Takeshi (JPN). This concluded a sensational day, but in the most dramatic fashion, executing a stunning uchi mata in only 12 seconds to become the national hero for Azerbaijan and a technical icon for the rest of the judo community.
In the -48kg category, Leyla ALIYEVA (AZE) made her way through her quarter, defeating the likes of Tamar MALCA (ISR) and Francesca MILANI (ITA) and world ranked #2, Shirine BOUKLI (FRA) to make it in to the semi final. After this series of wins, she was motivated to be in the -48kg final, and some reactive ashi waza against Milica NIKOLIC (SRB) took her there.
After securing a win over half of the Italian entry, she was dealt top seed and WRL #1 Assunta SCUTTO. Despite a great initial effort, Scutto worked meticulously in the first minute and secured osaekomi for her third Grand Slam title, her second this year.
The third and final gold medal went to Olympic champion of the -57kg category, Nora GJAKOVA (KOS). This was an important win for Gjakova, given that she has found herself in three Grand Slam finals since the Games, however the gold medal evaded her. Today she managed her final against Eteri LIPARTELIANI (GEO) well, and managed to counter an o uchi gari attempt, stepping off swiftly and and using her own ashi waza to score a waza ari, enough to clinch her gold medal in Baku.
The remaining gold medals went to Ramazan ABDULAEV (AIN) and OMORI Kisumi (JPN). In the end, Azerbaijan, Japan and Kosovo all took a gold and bronze medal to tie the places in the medal standings. Tomorrow the tournament will continue at 09:30 local time on JudoTV.com.
Author: Thea Cowen