There were beautiful moments, shocking defeats, but mostly some critical changes for many athletes.
Arguably the highlight for most was the outstanding performance of Martti PUUMALAINEN (FIN). The Finnish athlete can always been found in the line up of the +100kg category and on numerous occasions has caused some issues for the top ranked, but on the final day of the 2023 IJF Masters, he became the problem.
Making his way through his quarter, defeating Gela ZAALISHVILI (GEO), and then SAITO Tatsuru (JPN) for a place in the final, Puumalainen had already made history for his nation to become the first medallist in the Masters event. As if the challenge hadn’t been great enough, he was then faced with world ranked number one, Temur RAKHIMOV (TJK) in the ultimate showdown. In the end, a seoi nage was the difference between the pair and Finland were able to hear the national anthem, and as a result, sent Puumalainen from #16 in the world ranking list to #6, officially a top seed and the highest ranked among his European compatriots.
Another who has been digging in to climb the ranking is Daria BILODID (UKR). Since her jump from -48kg to -57kg, it hasn’t been the easiest transition for the double world champion, however she also made a ten-spot jump in to position #14. Bilodid appears to be back.
Soaring to the lofty heights of number one ranking were two female athletes. Assunta ‘Susy’ SCUTTO (ITA) once again took a third place in the Masters event, to go along with her two consecutive world medals, and was already teetering on the rise to number one, however these critical points were necessary for Scutto to surpass her opponents and become leader of the -48kg category. Next up was eventual Masters champion, Inbar LANIR (ISR), who incidentally is also the current world champion of the -78kg category. In the final in Budapest, her final opponent Madeleine MALONGA (FRA) waited a fraction too long and gave Lanir the opportunity to counter an attack with ura nage, to seal the deal for the gold medal, as well as the number one seeding position.
Steady climber Laura FAZLIU (KOS) is demonstrating that the talent of Kosovo is coursing through the generations, following the talents of Majlinda KELMENDI, Nora GJAKOVA, Distria KRASNIQI and Akil GJAKOVA. The younger athlete, Fazliu has already achieved a European silver medal in the -63kg category and is now chasing down Lucy RENSHALL’s (GBR) number one place, having jumped four spots. It was an incredible day for Fazliu, defeating the Japanese duo, HORIKAWA Megumi and TAKAICHI Miku for the Masters title.
Author: Thea Cowen