It certainly wasn’t plain sailing for the already 6-time Paris Grand Slam winner, Clarisse AGBEGNENOU of France, who was in search of her seventh title to match that of Lucie DECOSSE, a Bercy favourite. Only once had she met surprise final opponent, Katarina KRISTO (CRO) before today, and it was in the first round of the European Championships 2023. It might not have been her day in Montpellier, but it was a much more straight forward contest for the French superstar.
Today, Agbegnenou was refreshed and she was settling for nothing but the gold in front of this tremendous home crowd and family, but she endured some gruelling golden scores throughout the day, over twelve minutes with HORIKAWA Megumi (JPN) in her preliminaries. Then in the final, it heading to the two minuet mark in golden score, two shidos each, and the suspense began to build. A clinch. The crowd, and Kristo, suspecting the ura nage but she managed to switch direction, initially going for the leg to attack with ashi guruma and missed, however the movement continued and she was able to take the winning score!
I can only say thank you to this crowd, they have pushed me, please come back in July again and push me again! I am ready and I still have six months to go!
This is the seventh title here for Agbegnenou, but for 2021 Junior European Champion Kristo, her first Grand Slam medal.
There was an incredible turn of events in the -73kg category, with no big names or the ‘expected’ ones in the final, instead we had the unranked ISHIHARA Tatsuki (JPN) and WRL #179 Giorgi CHIKHELIDZE (GEO). Anyone’s day. If ever we needed an example, this would be it. The initial score went to Ishihara with a strong ashi guruma, Chikhelidze did not give him any space, but couldn’t come up with a score to match that of his opponent and in the end settled for a Paris Grand Slam silver.
After the success of Agbegnenou, Margaux PINOT was driven to a bronze medal win in the -70kg category against Tais PINA (POR), and then it was up to Marie Eve GAHIE (FRA) to continue the trend. Both Gahie and her opponent, Miriam BUTKEREIT (GER) were in desperate need of this win, and both capable throwers it was simply a matter of time before we saw some big action, for the home crowd however, it ended in disappointment.
Butkereit has been plagued by the silver curse up until today, claiming five Grand Slam second places, but today it was an indisputable win from the German athlete, a beautiful o soto maki komi stole the show and claimed her first title. Gahie settled for her second consecutive silver in this tournament, but the story isn’t over yet for Paris.
Wrapping up the second day were the -81kg men; Matthias CASSE (BEL) and Zelim TCKAEV (AZE). The former took the title here in 2020, which contributes to his four title collection, whereas Tckaev took his first in Baku last year, but quickly added two bronze in Abu Dhabi and Tokyo. The Azeri athlete is WRL #12 and incredibly the second in this category for his nation following Olympic medallist Saeid MOLLAEI. Though Casse looked the more confident out of the gates, Tckaev threatened with ashi waza, as well as a maki komi attempt. Casse gave himself time to reassess and find a new game plan, but all the while Tckaev kept up the assault and it really felt as if the Azeri athlete had his number, even almost countering a seoi nage attack.
Golden score isn’t always what the fans want, but in this case – and has been the case previously with Casse – most didn’t want this contest to end. Casse took back his Paris Grand Slam title with a stunning, wheeling sasae tsuri komi ashi to finish the day and was truly a crowd pleaser.
Author: Thea Cowen