18 February 2024


Baku Grand Slam 2024


On the third and final day of the Baku Grand Slam, the Azeri men continued in their takeover. In the -90kg category, they had not one, but two on the podium, not including the Paris Grand Slam silver medallist Eljan HAJIYEV who lost out in the earlier rounds to Alexis MATHEIU (FRA). First to stand on the podium, and in fact take his first Grand Slam medal was Vugar TALIBOV. A successful cadet and junior who has bounded up to the -90kg weight category.

In the final, the crowd continued their support for Murad FATIYEV, who had a difficult opponent in the number one seed and Olympic medallist, TOTH Krisztian (HUN). As always, Toth had his work cut out for him, battling the lofty heights of his opponents. The pair went in to golden score, picking up two shidos each, and it was Fatiyev that played the tactical game, guiding Toth toward the corner and forcing him to attack to avoid the penalty. Anticipating the uchi mata from Toth, Faityev braced and controlled with te waza to counter him and score. Gold for Azerbaijan.

Yuliia KURCHENKO (UKR) grabbed attention today, the current U23 European Champion has moved on to the IJF World Tour and today surpassed her team mate, Yelyzaveta LYTVYNENKO (UKR) who took the bronze medal in the end. In the final, she came up against one of the most experienced in the category, who took bronze in the Paris Grand Slam this month, Guusje STEENHUIS (NED). Experience certainly played a great part in the -78kg category today, Steenhuis blocking and preventing any positive movement from Kurchenko, forcing the 20 year-old to pick up two shidos heading in to golden score. Immediately as the clock started, Steenhuis executed an ippon scoring foot sweep.

Another top seed followed suit, this time in the -100kg category. In his first outing of 2024, the world ranked number one, Ilia SULAMANIDZE (GEO) landed with a bang, numerous actually, given his big wins today. In the final, many expected to see Zelim KOTSOIEV (AZE) for a European Championships rematch, but instead there was the unexpected Piotr KUCZERA (POL). This of course isn’t the first time we’ve seen the European silver medallist, as he saw out the likes of Nikoloz SHERAZADISHVILI (ESP) and Jorge FONSECA (POR) on his way to European success in 2022. Unfortunately, despite his great wins today against the top athletes on the circuit, he was no match for the Georgian.

Ilia SULAMANIDZE (GEO) © Tamara Kulumbegashvili

In under 45 seconds, Sulamanidze had gaged his opponent and committed to a textbook sumi gaeshi to score ippon and deliver the 22 year-olds fourth Grand Slam gold, defending his 2023 win.

As for the +78kg category, there was an interesting final between Romane DICKO (FRA) and Aysa TAVANO (ITA). This head to head was a case of seeking revenge for Dicko, who lost to Tavano in the World Championships, and even on this occasion, she struggled. It wasn’t a simple contest, there were many throwing attempts, but tactically played by Dicko, resulted in her Italian opponent picking up three shidos.

Closing out the tournament in Baku were the +100kg men. Once again, the arena was alive as they had another athlete, Dzhamal GAMZATKHANOV, stepping out for a final, against Valeriy ENDOVITSKIY (AIN). Both had exemplary days, and in the end were best of the best in this difficult weight. Endovitskiy was the eventual victor however, throwing with a huge o soto gari to score ippon against the home favourite.

Concluding the event, Azerbaijan topped the medal table with three gold, two silver and three bronze, followed by France and Canada.


Author: Thea Cowen