On the third and final day of the Senior European Championships 2023, Luka MAISURADZE (GEO) is competing to defend his 2022 European title, with the weight of the red back patch behind him. Though everyone knows by now that the world ranked #1 has a number of great rivals, unfortunately the main one is team mate and current Olympic Champion, Lasha BEKAURI. In their previous head to head, which just happened to be the IJF Masters final, Bekauri was the victor, but the pair give a tremendous show regardless, and if all goes to plan, the top two seeds will have their third final of the year.
Now aside from the strong Georgian entry, we look to the likes of Christian PARLATI (ITA) and TOTH Krisztian (HUN) to round off the top four. Further afield is the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Slam gold medallist, Nemanja MAJDOV (SRB), who defeated Spain’s new -90kg competitor Tristani MOSAKHLISHVILI, who sits just outside of the seeding positions. Even further down the ranking, last years silver medallist, Darko BRASNJOVIC (SRB). Noel VAN T END (NED), Ivaylo IVANOV (BUL) are also in the top eight ranked athletes in this category, along with one of the home favourites, 2022 IJF Masters winner, Alexis MATHIEU (FRA). He isn’t the only representative for France however, as Axel CELRGET accompanies him.
France have a challenge in the -78kg category, with both Audrey TCHEUMEO (WRL #3), the 2014 European Champion in Montpellier, and Madeleine MALONGA (WRL #5) vying for an Olympic spot, but France aren’t the only nation with this enviable issue. Germany has a WRL #4 and #8 also in a great race, Anna-Maria WAGNER and Alina BOEHM have both been on a roll this year, but on this occasion, it will be Boehm coming to Montpellier to defend her European title from 2022.
Joining this fantastic four in the eight seeded positions is the world ranking leader, Alice BELLANDI (ITA) who continues to prove her superiority, taking yet another gold last week in Abu Dhabi to join her team mates Assunta SCUTTO and Odette GIUFFRIDA to put Italy at the top of the medal table. A great rival of Bellandi is Inbar LANIR (ISR), after a 4-0 winning streak, Bellandi fell to Lanir in the semi final of the world championships where the Israeli athlete became champion.
Rounding out the seeds is Patricia SAMPAIO (POR) but the talent doesn’t end there, with Ukraine’s Yelyzaveta LYTVYNENKO (UKR) sitting just outside.
The -100kg category continues to be one of the most unpredictable, with the depth of talent reaching to the depths of the ranking. This is also a strong category globally, and though the top four competing are the top four in the world ranking, the next is WRL #11. Ilia SULAMANIDZE (GEO) leads the charge, rising to the top in style, the cool and casual contender, and not too dissimilar is the #2, Zelym KOTSOIEV (AZE) who is looking for another gold medal this year, and to complete his continental championships collection, cadet and junior titles already in the bag. Next up is Michael KORREL (NED), the defending European Champion in the -100kg category, and just behind is Peter PALTCHIK (ISR), yet another European Champion in this weight from 2020, this weekend will truly be a battle of the best. Paltchik will be especially eager to be on top of the podium following a silver medal in the IJF Masters in August.
The Champion trend continues with Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB), granted his title was in the -90kg category however he has made it clear he is a top contender in the heavier weight, having placed second at the world championships in 2021, a Zagreb Grand Prix gold in the summer and a silver in Abu Dhabi just last week. One of the youngest in the category, Matvey KANIKOVSKIY (AIN) took a junior European gold in 2021 and has since medalled in every IJF World Tour tournament since; four grand slam finals, becoming the champion in two. He will be a great threat on day three. Finishing off the ranking we have double world champion, Jorge FONSECA (POR) who is getting his groove back following a break, and in the eighth seeded poisiton, arguably one of the most entertaining judoka on the tour, Aaron FARA (AUT). If you’re looking for big throws, do not miss Fara’s contests.
Competition is heating up in the +78kg category, with Raz HERSHKO (ISR) leading. So far Hershko has had an almost perfect streak, only missing out on an IJF Masters medal this year, not that it deterred her as she was back on the podium the next month in Baku. Though Hershko tends to have a big fan base, she will be in competition with the #2 seed and home sensation, Romane DICKO who managed to rule in the Masters event, taking gold. She dreamt of taking the gold medal at home in the Paris Grand Slam this year but was forced to settle for bronze, this week she has the chance to change that. Montpellier has already been the backdrop to many French European medals and will undoubtedly see more, but how many titles can the team rake in?
Rochelle NUNES (POR) took gold last week in Abu Dhabi and is on a roll as of recent and she matches the experience of the next athlete, Kayra OZDEMIR (TUR) who also took a grand slam gold in Antalya earlier this year. The Netherlands have doubled their chances with Marit KAMPS and Karen STEVENSON within the top eight, and the strength continues from team Serbia with Milica ZABIC in fifth seeded position. In the last coveted spot is Sophio SOMKHISHVILI (GEO).
Somewhat surprisingly, Teddy RINER (FRA) isn’t in the line up for the +100kg category, though a disappointing turn of events for the home crowd, we can be sure this will be a bit of a relief for the rest of the competitors. Battling one man is one thing, but battling an arena is something different. So instead of the French hero ringing in the heavyweight men’s category, we have the Finnish sensation, and IJF Masters champion, Martii PUUMALAINEN, and all eyes will be on this exciting athlete. The line up following him is, however, rather exciting in itself. The Dutch have another duo in the top positions, WRL #15 and #17 Jelle SNIPPE and Roy MEYER, both owners of European championship bronze medals but looking for the next level and of course, points. Above this pair are the 2018 World Championship finalists, Ushangi KOKAURI (AZE) and champion, Guram TUSHISHVILI (GEO). The latter took silver in an interesting final of the Baku Grand Slam, but has his sights set on a third European title this week.
Double Olympic Champion Lukas KRPALEK (CZE) is entering the heavier of his two categories at the moment and this week will be in the seeding despite his WRL #20 status. Cadet, Junior and U23 European champion, eight titles altogether to be exact, SIPOCZ Richard (HUN) is still looking for his senior title but has stiff competition to pass before making that dream come true, and joining him as one of the younger competitors is Losseni KONE, one half of the German entry. Kone gave an outstanding performance in Abu Dhabi and walked away with a fifth place, and his team mate, Erik ABRAMOV, grabbed the silver medal. This is yet another category where the story doesn’t finish with the seeded athletes, or even the top ten, upsets are expected.
The draw will take place tomorrow, November 2nd, at JudoTV.com at 16:00 local time, join us to see the athletes European Championships fate of 2023.
Author: Thea Cowen