16 February 2024


Baku Grand Slam 2024


The IJF World Tour continues this week in Baku, and on day one we were spoiled with some great surprises from up and coming athletes. First off in the -48kg, the top seed Milica NIKOLIC (SRB) found herself facing 18 year-old Tara BABULFATH (SWE). The Swedish athlete is successful at the cadet and junior level, never missing the podium for two whole years. Since, she has been pushing herself on to the senior circuit, took fifth place in Tokyo and after a gruelling training camp in Paris, battled her way to the final of a Grand Slam. Of course, this result for Nikolic also pushed her further ahead of team mate Andrea STOJADINOV (SRB) in the run up to the Games.

Babulfath and Nikolic went in to golden score, shido a piece after an extra two minutes. After numerous attempts, Babulfath transitioned in to ne waza and secured, not only her first IJF World Tour medal as a senior, but a Grand Slam gold. This sensational result for the youngster will allow her to slide up the world ranking list with 1000 points, and Paris looks a lot clearer now.

In the -60kg category, current European Champion and Paris Grand Slam winner, Luka MKHEIDZE (FRA), took himself to yet another Grand Slam final, this time against Ramazan ABDULAEV (AIN). It was another golden score situation with both ceding two shidos, and it became a case of who looked the most active. Unfortunately for Mkheidze, an enthusiastic maki komi attempt saw his head hit the ground first resulting in hansoku make, and the silver medal. He may not be taking home the gold but these points will push him in to the WRL #3 position, the highest ranked European athlete. Following the lightweight men’s category, the -52kg women took to the tatami, Diyora KELDIYOROVA (UZB) faced Odette GIUFFRIDA (ITA) for the gold medal, and it was a kata guruma attempt from Giuffrida that was anticipated, and countered which gave top seed and WRL #2 the winning waza ari score. This win will move her in top position in the world ranking, ahead of the -48kg Olympic Champion, Distria KRASNIQI (KOS).

After a day full of ne waza wins and a challenging amount of golden score time racked up, Alberto GAITERO MARTIN (ESP) took his place in the final with France’s Daikii BOUBA. Unfortunately for the Spanish athlete, it was yet another golden score ordeal, but he did not falter, after a further three minutes the ne waza specialist took it to the ground to earn himself a second Grand Slam title.

Closing out the first day of competition, Christa DEGUCHI (CAN) returned to a Grand Slam final, and not wanting a repeat of Paris where she settled for silver, she prepped herself for the current Olympic Champion, Nora GJAKOVA (KOS). In the end, it didn’t come to that as Gjakova was unable to compete in the -57kg final, awarding Deguchi the full 1000 point bonus. This result now puts her at the top of the world ranking list, for both men and women with an astounding 9195 points, and now creates a chasm of just over 1500 points between herself and team mate, Jessica KLIMKAIT in the race to Paris.


Author: Thea Cowen