30 November 2023


Tokyo Grand Slam 2023


Tomorrow we will see the draw for the concluding event on the IJF World Judo Tour 2023 in the home of judo, Tokyo, Japan. Over the 2nd and 3rd of December, many of the greatest athletes in the world will finish their season looking to gain some all important ranking points as we close in on the Olympic Games next year.

On day one, only six of the 14 weight categories will take to the tatami, though they tend to be the more greatly populated, and so we will look at the potential medallists of the remaining eight, light and heavy weights.

In the -48kg category, as mentioned in the day one preview, we have noticeable absences from the French side given their Olympic team announcement, however they still carry great weight in the athletes who missed out on selection. First up is world ranked #3, Blandine PONT, who sits atop of the seeding. Despite her great accomplishments in 2023 with consecutive Grand Slam wins, she was pipped to the post by Shirine BOUKLI. Competing against Pont we have Abiba ABUZHAKYNOVA (KAZ), TSUNODA Natsumi (JPN) and European Championship finalist, Catarina COSTA (POR). The Asian entry is dense in this category, yet two more seeding positions will go to European representatives; Francesca MILANI (ITA) and Shira RISHONY (ISR).

Giorgi SARDALASHVILI (GEO) © Gabi Juan

Unsurprisingly there is a similar theme in the -60kg category, led by LEE Harim (KOR), NAGAYAMA Ryuju (JPN) and Olympic silver medallist Yung Wei YANG (TPE). With these alone the level is astronomical but from the European perspective, we have capable hands in that of Balabay AGHAYEV (AZE), Georgia’s ballistic young talent and world bronze medallist, Giorgi SARDALASHVILI, as well as French strength in Cedric REVOL and European silver medallist Dilshot KHALMATOV (UKR) who put himself on the Grand Slam map last year in Baku, with numerous results this year. There is no ignoring the remaining entry however, that bears the load of Olympic champion and four-time world champion, TAKATO Naohisa (JPN), former European and world champions; Artem LESIUK (UKR) and Lukhumi CHKHVIMIANI (GEO).

The -52kg women may be slightly alleviated by the missing top five world ranked athletes in the category, but we also see the return of ABE Uta (JPN) since her world title win in Doha, Qatar. Even though she is world ranked #8, she is the third seed. PUPP Reka (HUN) and Gefen PRIMO (ISR) will instead be leading the opposing halves of the draw this weekend and despite some experienced athletes having rallied for this great event, including Astride GNETO (FRA) and Estrella LOPEZ SHERIFF (ESP), there is a noticeable influx of young women. Giulia CARNA (ITA), the junior European champion who also has two junior world silver medals and a title to her name is landing on the senior circuit, hoping to explode and make a great impact, alongside Ana Victoria PULJIZ (CRO) who has Grand Prix accolades but is still looking for the Grand Slam medal.

Giulia CARNA (ITA) © Tino Maric

For the -66kg category, the opposite must be said with the top four seeding positions held by the top four athletes on the circuit, at the top is the current European champion, Denis VIERU (MDA). With six Grand Slam titles and nine medals in total, Tokyo has managed to evade him until this point but he is having an unrivalled season and this could be the cherry on the cake. There is a double assault either side of the #3 seed Vazha MARGVELASHVILI (GEO) from the Mongolian team; #2 YONDONPERENLEI Baskhuu and #4 BATTOGTOKH Erkhembayar. For Margvelashvili there was a quiet period in his career which started strong with a Grand Slam gold in Tel Aviv earlier in the year, followed by near misses in Tbilisi and the world championships, however he is back on form with a gold in Abu Dhabi, perhaps this could be gold #3 for the third seed.

David GARCIA TORNE (ESP) and Denis VIERU (MDA) © Carlos Ferreira

Contradicting this theme is Spain’s champion, David GARCIA TORNE, the European silver medallist, Grand Slam and Grand Prix medallist this year and quite frankly one of the more technical in the category, at least for the ippon reels! Now we can talk about Azerbaijan’s Yashar NAJAFOV or even Brazil’s talent in Willian LIMA, but eyes are sharply drawn to eighth seed, and the other half of the ABE team, Hifumi. Given last years results, assumptions may be made that Team Japan will make an almost clean sweep but with almost 200 more athletes in for the win, it could be a shock to the system for the host nation.

Part two…


Author: Thea Cowen