9 June 2024


Madrid European Open 2024


There are a fair few athletes still on the hunt for qualification spots in the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, less than 50 days away. There are some competing to better their world ranking positions and in doing so, their seeding for the Games. Then there is the unusual entry of Lasha BEKAURI in the Madrid European Open, the current Olympic Champion of the -90kg category is already owner of the coveted top spot in the world ranking list and will be defending his title as the top seed.

It was a surprise to some that he was missing in the World Championships, as was team mate in the -100kg category, Ilia SULAMANIDZE, instead the pair had traded home soil for training in Germany.

The people’s player, Lasha BEKAURI (GEO) © Gabi Juan

This year the World Championships wasn’t so important to me, the only thing that matters now is the Olympic Games, it is so important and legendary and I need to prepare the best way I can. This meant not competing in Abu Dhabi, instead we have been training in Germany.

Initially explaining the reasons, it became clear it wasn’t merely for a different type of training, knowing that he could get everything he needed back home in Georgia, be it physical or technical. In Georgia, judo is a celebrity sport, one of few that the country celebrates Olympic medals.

I really needed to change mat environment, the atmosphere around me. You know how it is in Georgia, I am famous because of judo and the Olympic medal, and everywhere I go, I have people coming to me. So sometimes I need a change and I feel really good now. Even after this competition, I will go to Croatia for the training camp before going home to Georgia.

Poetry in motion! © Gabi Juan

Even though he is the front runner of the -90kg category, and used to performing on much bigger stages, the pressure remains no matter where he competes. Bekauri may fight for himself, but he fights more for his country, and displays this with every win, each one going to his supporters in the crowd. Even after the medal ceremony, he jumped in to the stands to meet his fans, as no matter where the IJF or EJU tour goes, there are always Georgian flags soaring.

In this run up to the Olympic Games, all of these tournaments are preparation, I need these fights to have the competition competition feeling. I still feel nervous no matter when I fight, I want to make my supporters happy.

There are less than 50 days to go before the start of the Paris Olympic Games, will Lasha BEKAURI, the Georgian superstar who took the Olympic title two days after his 21st birthday, reign supreme and defend his title?


Author: Thea Cowen