The Paris Grand Slam is arguably one of the most prestigious events in the judo calendar with many flocking from around the world to take in the legendary atmosphere of the Bercy, the Accor Hotels Arena. With the finishing touches taking place now, we are just waiting on the arrival of the athletes and with a great entry of 533 competitors, there will be plenty of action to witness over the two-day event.
On Saturday 4th of February the first athletes, the lighter half of the weight categories, will step on the stage to perform under the focussed lights.
France’s world ranked number one, Shirine BOUKLI will be the focal point of the -48kg category for the home crowd as the top contender, however she will be joined by team mates capable of medalling including Blandine PONT, Melanie VIEU and Pauline CUQ. There are some top opponents in this category including the Spanish rising star Mireia LAPUERTA COMAS as well as the more seasoned Milica NIKOLIC (SRB) and Shira RISHONY (ISR) who are the number 3 and 4 seeds respectively.
Luka MKHEIDZE (FRA) jumped back in to competition last week in Portugal taking a bronze medal but he won’t be in the line up this week. Standing next to him on the podium in the Grand Prix was team mate Cedric REVOL who will be hoping to be back on the podium again and he is joined by younger Frenchman Romain VALADIER PICARD who picked up a Paris medal in 2021. Trying to steal the French limelight will be the number one in the world, YANG Yung Wei (TPE) as well as a host of European top athletes such as Balabay AGHAYEV (AZE), Jorre VERSTRAETEN (BEL) and Temur NOZADZE (GEO) who are in the seeded positions this weekend.
Olympic Champion Distria KRASNIQI (KOS) has had no problem moving from the -48kg and claiming her position among the best of the best in -52kg. In fact, in the top five for the Paris Grand Slam it is an all-European affair, as she is succeeded by PUPP Reka (HUN), Astride GNETO (FRA), Gefen PRIMO (ISR) and Amandine BUCHARD (FRA). Of course the focus will be on the French duo, especially the latter who will be coming to defend her 2022 title.
Denis VIERU (MDA), world ranked number one is leading the -66kg charge, and is closely followed by IJF Masters winner, Baruch SHMAILOV (ISR). The pair faced each other in the semi finals back in December in front of Shmailov’s home crowd where he became victor, but there is a chance for a rematch, only this time it would be the grande finale. This is of course assuming that both will succeed in their halves, having to defeat the likes of AN Baul (KOR) and Alberto GAITERO MARTIN (ESP) who follow closely behind. Vieru took the Paris title in 2019, his first, and has taken another five since, will his result reflect his world ranking this weekend?
Europe can boast only one athlete in the top five of this strong women’s category, Timna NELSON LEVY (ISR). She will certainly be refocussed and refuelled for 2023 following a somewhat disappointing end in Jerusalem. Nevertheless she is still one to beat but she is surrounded by strong contenders, for Europe alone there are Priscilla GNETO (FRA), Telma MONTEIRO (POR), and Mina LIBEER (BEL) in seeded positions. Daria BILODID (UKR) is still climbing the -57kg ladder and is currently out of the qualification zone for Paris 2024, but not by much!
Similarly to the -57kg, Europeans are in short supply in the top seeding positions of the -73kg category. Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) takes his place at the top with Petru PELIVAN (MDA) in at number six. Following the top eight, the flood gates open, with the French duo Benjamin AXUS and Joan-Benjamin GABA ready for battle in front of a fuelled home crowd. However, the threat at the top must be recognised. Daniel CARGNIN (BRA) moved in to this new category following a bronze medal win in the Tokyo Olympic Games at-66kg, and has shot to the world ranked number four position, quickly chasing down the best of the bunch, notably defeating Rustam ORUJOV (AZE), Shavdatuashvili and Manuel LOMBARDO (ITA) to take a world championship bronze in Tashkent, and closed 2022 with the IJF Masters title. Cargnin is out for blood and this category needs to be ready.
Many may be disappointed by the absence of Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA) in this Grand Slam following her return in December but the double Olympic champion is still hard at work getting back to her peak condition. Instead, world bronze medallist Manon DEKETER will be flying the French flag and with great chances of being on the podium, if not being responsible for the national anthem ringing through the arena on Saturday. As per each group we assess, there are barriers including number one seed Lucy RENSHALL (GBR) or Masters bronze medallist, Angelika SZYMANSKA (POL). Then even further down the list we have the likes of European silver medallist Laura FAZLIU (KOS), the talent is spread far throughout this category and surprises are bound to occur.
Author: Thea Cowen