Not only is there a great line up for the men’s categories in Tashkent, but many of the top female athletes will be there to collect points including current world champion, Barbara MATIC (CRO).
In the -48kg category, the top two seeds Catarina COSTA (POR) and Laura MARTINEZ ABELENDA (ESP) are focussed on that final. Costa secured the bronze medal in the IJF Masters in December but has yet to find herself on the podium since, and similarly for Martinez, a grand prix bronze was her last celebration, though she has still been making placements in her recent bouts.
Hungary’s PUPP Reka is leading at the number one seed in the -52kg category with some stiff competition, we have seen Ana PEREZ BOX (ESP) looking on form recently since a short break and she could definitely cause problems.
Another athlete we haven’t seen on the tour in a short while is Eteri LIPARTELIANI (GEO). Following a bronze medal win in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, Liparteliani was one and out in both the Tokyo Grand Slam and IJF Masters, on both occasions it was YOSHIDA Tsukasa (JPN) that ended her campaign. In Tel Aviv, Veronica TONIOLO (ITA) made an impression with a win against Telma MONTEIRO (POR), though a subsequent loss to Daria BILODID (UKR) sent her out of the running for a medal, these points are all adding up towards her Olympic qualification.
Since moving to the -63kg category, Barbara TIMO (POR) has gone from strength to strength, and as the number two seed, expectations will be high for her, but we wonder about seed #3. In 2021 Andreja LESKI (SLO) couldn’t be kept off the podium but in 2022 secured only one medal. Following some preparation in Mittersill this will be her first event of the year and we are interested to see if the Slovenian is back.
Matic of course will have all eyes on here as she returns to the place she last took the -70kg world title, alongside her team mate and vice champion, Lara CVJETKO (CRO). We are also happy to see IJF Masters champion Michaela POLLERES (AUT) back on the scene after a small injury kept her from competing in Paris.
In the -78kg category, the top two German athletes; Anna Maria WAGNER and Alina BOEHM – world ranked #3 and #13 respectively – are in the top four alongside Patricia SAMPAIO (POR) who has already proven herself a top contender in 2023. Sampaio took gold in the Portugal Grand Prix, a fifth in Paris and yet another medal in Tel Aviv.
As for the +78kg category, Asia are claiming the top four positions, including two of the Chinese heavyweights who competed in Warsaw last week. Following them in hope of take medals are Hilal OZTURK (TUR) and Sophio SOMKHISHVILI (GEO). Both have proven themselves capable of medalling on the IJF circuit, and Ozturk is still quite fresh on the scene as both current junior and U23 European champion.
Catch the draw tomorrow at 14:00 local time at live.ijf.org.
Author: Thea Cowen