There is a noticeable influx of young athletes competing in the Junior European Championships this year, many successful cadets challenging themselves against their slightly more senior opponents and hoping to prove themselves. Between the 7th and 9th of September 2023 we will see some new champions crowned, however there are some athletes returning to defend their titles.
First up is Ksawery IGNASIAK (POL), defending his junior European title from Prague 2022, however he isn’t leading in the ranking and will be the #5 seed of the -60kg category. Leading the charge is Austria’s Marcus AUER, who has been collecting junior European Cup gold medals and hopes to make it a major gold this week. Following in the top four are Andrei ANGHEL (ROU) and Nazar VISKOV (UKR), the latter the holder of four continental championship bronze medals at both cadet and junior level. Last year in Prague he was unfortunate to meet Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) who is now within the top eight in the world amongst seniors in this incredibly strong category. Viskov was able to come back with a save for his medal but this year his goal will be nothing short of the final.
Though Bayramov is now in the senior running, he has a suitable replacement in the 2022 Cadet European champion, Nizami IMRANOV, it seems the Azeri team are developing and churning out talent at all levels.
In the 2022 edition, it was a double-Demirel result for the team of Türkiye with Muhammed taking the -66kg title and Ibrahim pulling up with the bronze medal. Now the younger Ibrahim has a free run as the only one carrying that name, that is, if he can get past the top seeds. Eran FIKS (ISR) has been steadily collecting points to become the #4 in the world ranking and top the seeding this week in The Hague, most recently a gold in Birmingham and bronze in Paks. Arguably, the next has a bit more experience, even collecting a medal on the European senior circuit, Valerio ACCOGLI (ITA) took silver in the Tallinn European Open. Despite his accolades in junior cup events, major championship medals have evaded him as a junior, perhaps the experience gained this year will bring the Italian athlete a step closer. For the home nation, 2022 European Youth Olympic Festival champion, Jochem VAN HARTEN will be one to watch as he transitions in to this age category.
Though not the top seed, in at number three is Giorgi TERASHVILI (GEO). One of the wonderful aspects of this sport is the unpredictability, seeding and ranking only goes so far until one athlete has ‘their day’. However, sometimes the competition is simply strong, which is certainly the case in -73kg. Terashvili is proof of that, taking silver in the junior world championships in 2022, but also securing an astounding Grand Slam gold in Antalya earlier in the year, defeating Manuel LOMBARDO (ITA) in the final.
Georgia have in fact doubled up on their chances, the #6 seed Kote KAPANADZE is another talented individual, finishing 5th in the Tbilisi Grand Slam after defeating the former world champion, TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL). The pair certainly draw immediate attention away from their opponents, however Vincenzo PELLIGRA (ITA) and Vusal GALANDARADZE (AZE) both stood on the podium last year, the Azeri the defending champion.
One Dutch up and comer is Joshua DE LANGE. The 2022 EYOF champion has demonstrated tremendous consistency after his transition to the junior level this year, having reached four final blocks, medalling in three. Considering the strength of this category as well as the difficulties many find when stepping up a level, De Lange could be a strong bet for the Netherlands team this week.
However before they start counting their chickens, the leaders of the group have the experience and a couple more years under their belts. Bright MADDALONI NOSA (ITA) is one of them. A finalist in Prague 2022, he will be reminded of the bitter sweet result and if he is gifted the opportunity again, will have sights set on the gold. Austria have yet another medal hopeful with Bernd FASCHING, Birmingham and Lignano Junior Cup winner who is followed by Igor TSURKAN (UKR). Tsurkan may be one of the youngest at 18 years, but he is a circuit, and more impressively, podium regular. 2022 brought him a cadet European title and world bronze medal but he transitioned seamlessly on to the junior circuit and has been stamping his authority ever since.
We have already seen many of the -90kg juniors try their hand on the senior circuit, many knowing it will be a difficult move when their time as junior athletes are over. One who is already well aware of that fact is number one seed, Vugar TALIBOV (AZE). Five years ago he took the Youth Olympic title in Buenos Aires, but in the much lighter category of -66kg. Talibov continued his success as a cadet with continental and world medals, but last year became the junior champion and will be hoping to defend his gold medal in The Hague. He will have tough competition from Oleksii BOLDYRIEV (UKR) if both manage to win their respective halves of the draw.
There will also be a Serbian double act in the -90kg category, 18 year-old Milan BULAJA became the Cadet European champion in 2022, following up with a world bronze. Team mate Miljan RADULJ shared in the 2022 success by taking the EYOF title and a bronze in the junior European championships. Both have an abundance of talent and ability to take a medal in The Hague.
Front runner for the -100kg category is Benjamin MATASEJE (SLO), one of the older in the group who placed third in the junior world championships last year and has a collection of junior cup medals including a gold from Lignano. This will also be the last chance for number two seed, Mathias ANGLIONIN (FRA) to take a continental gold, his highest achievement so far being a bronze in the EYOF. He has topped the continental cup podium multiple times but now needs to make it happen here in the Netherlands.
In order to do that he will need to move past the home favourite, Silvan BULTHUIS, who most recently won the Birmingham Junior European Cup, as well as Poznan earlier in the year.
Defending champion and world bronze medallist, Shalva GURESHIDZE (GEO) takes the number one spot in the +100kg category, and took gold medals in both Prague and Graz with relative ease. He will most definitely be the one to beat on the last day of individual competition. Grzegorz TERESINSKI (POL) is up for the challenge, taking three gold continental cup medals in a row and adding an extra in Slovenj Gradec last month.
Notably, many of these young men are being tested on the senior circuit as well, and not just continentally, but on the IJF World Tour. EYOF bronze medallist Giannis ANTONIOU (CYP) was given the experience in the Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam and will go on to compete in Baku later this month, and there is also a possibility for Azerbaijan’s Kanan NASIBOV, who stood next to Antoniou to accept a bronze medal in the EYOF and has medalled in every event this year.
This is the Junior European Championships, where the best of the best come together to compete for the revered European title and no one will have an easy road.
Author: Thea Cowen