It has been a while since the top athletes; Matthias CASSE (BEL) and Manuel LOMBARDO (ITA) have been able to top the podium. Despite their talents, the calibre of the -81kg and -73kg have prevented them from taking gold, however today that changed.
Ketleyn QUADROS (BRA), though not on the European team was a shining example of talent and class on the second day of the Antalya Grand Slam. At 35 years-old, the -63kg athlete is one of the most senior and most experienced on the tour, Olympic bronze medallist in 2008 and taking her second grand slam gold today. It happened right on the buzzer, a drop seoi nage scored ippon against Israel’s Inbal SHEMESH who was fighting for her third grand slam title.
Luck began to change for Europe in the second category, -73kg. Manuel LOMBARDO (ITA) was a force to be reckoned with at -66kg, he was 2018 Junior World and European Champion and bounced on to the senior circuit in 2019, claiming a fifth at the senior world championships as well as two grand slam finals and the IJF Masters title. In this weight category he also became senior European champion, world silver medallist and placed fifth at the Tokyo Olympic Games, but now he has his sights set on glory in his new weight.
In the Tashkent World Championships 2022, he lost out to his final opponent today, TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL) who went on to become champion in Tashkent, but today the result went in favour of Lombardo. The Mongolian athlete was disqualified for head diving, though it was a very close call that was deliberated by the refereeing commission, leading to a win for the Italian, and his first grand slam gold in his new weight. Lombardo was very pleased with his result and even somewhat surprised as he felt niggling injuries may have prevented him from having the ideal preparation, but it seems it was just fine!
As for Barbara MATIC (CRO), the -70kg final posed issues from the beginning and a shido was picked up immediately. The current double world champion has been dominating with a terrific uchi mata throughout the preliminaries but now she was met with another uchi mata enthusiast, NIZOE Saki (JPN). The initial shido appeared to give Matic a wake up call and the pair went in to golden score, though not for long. As the Croatian athlete attacked with o soto gari, Nizoe countered with harai makikomi. Regardless of the final loss, a silver medal in a highly populated grand slam before the looming world championships is no easy feat and with the red back patch as a target, the world ranked number one is fighting hard to keep her opponents at bay.
Before the contest began, the head to head statistics were 4:3 in favour of the second finalist, Saeid MOLLAEI (AZE) and given the history of recent match ups and results, Mollaei looked to be the stronger of the two. Of course, the top tier athletes of this category are so close and today, as possibly expected, the contest went in to golden score. The pair went to ne waza and initially it looked like Mollaei was in control, almost in to osae komi, but Casse couldnt have been happier as he was in his element on the ground, wrapping up his opponent and surprisingly, took his first gold medal since February last year!
Author: Thea Cowen