She may not have been a gold medallist on the second day of the Portugal Grand Slam 2024, but OZBAS Szofi delivered a bronze medal in the -63kg for team Hungary and felt the love from her entire team. She had a tough opponent in Barbara TIMO (POR) for the medal, and not only Timo but the home crowd. Wise for her years, Ozbas was not worried about her surroundings and avoided the pressures, focusing solely on herself and her results, mimicking her world championships performance to succeed. A point theta she made is that ‘every second is freedom’, meaning that anything can happen before the time runs out and no matter if it be four minutes or four seconds, there is always a chance.
This is quite the example to set and she did a tremendous job for onlookers. Though Ozbas is accumulating medals, there are some opponents in the category who just seem one step ahead. Joining her for bronze was Inbal SHEMESH (ISR), a consistent medallist in this category and a driving force for the team, however the only European to make it to the final was former world number one, Lucy RENSHALL. Following a serious facial injury in the 2023 Zagreb Grand Prix, Renshall was forced to sit back and due to the frequency of events on the IJF World Tour, started slipping down the ranking list. Well, she is on her way back up now, but it was a somewhat close call. Katharina HAECKER (AUS) and number one seed today, was up a waza ari score, but it mattered little against Renshall, who is arguably one of the top athletes when it comes to contest management. Eventually a third shido was issued to Haecker, awarding Renshall her first gold medal since Zagreb in the summer.
Double world champion, Barbara MATIC (CRO) continues to collect the gold medals. Matic’s dominance was evident today, despite the level of her opponents, her approach was simple and somewhat clinical. By now, Matic knows the system that works for her and specifically against each opponent which she made clear today in order to take her first win of the season. The only European to join her on the podium was Miriam BUTKEREIT (GER), which will be a hit to team mate Giovanna SCOCCIMARRO who has been battling injury after injury in this qualification period.
As for the men, it comes as little surprise that an unknown neutral athlete could be in the final. Before today Danil LAVRENTEV (AIN) had two international medals, a bronze in a continental cadet cup in 2020, then a silver medal in the Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam last year. Quite a jump for the young man but understandable given political and health situations. Now today he continued on his mission to spear his way through the -73kg category, and managed to take the top place on the podium against Spain’s superstar, Salvador CASES ROCA, two seconds left on the clock as the referee called ippon following an ouch gari transition to osaekomi.
In the -81kg category, current European Champion, Vedat ALBAYRAK (TUR) blasted his way through his half of the draw but was halted in the final by HOJO Yoshito (JPN) in his first IJF World Tour event. This wasn’t some fluke of a win either by Hojo, who also defeated UNGVARI Attila (HUN), Antonio ESPOSITO (ITA), Saied MOLLAEI (AZE) and LEE Joonhwan (KOR) to take his final place. This is a perfect demonstration of the high level this tournament has attracted, a long with the tremendous surprises it has delivered.
Author: Thea Cowen