It comes as no surprise that the men’s -100kg category, with it’s array of strong contenders was unpredictable on day six of the world championships, but the 2019 world champion, Jorge FONSECA (POR) wanted to leave no room for doubt. The Portuguese was not about to give up his red back patch that he has been sporting for two years.
In the final he came up against 2017 European champion in the -90kg category, Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB). As 2017 world champion Nemanja MAJDOV of Serbia was so clearly in the lead on ranking points, the decision was made by Kukolj to move up a weight during the pandemic and before today, it wasn’t looking good. In order to have direct qualification to the Olympic Games, he needed to reach the final which was an incredibly big task, yet he moved past strong opponents including the #1 seed, Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) to take his place opposite Fonseca.
The -100kg final was the last contest of the day, highly anticipated, both athletes looking extremely strong and was set for a good match. Kukolj explained that today, Fonseca was simply too strong, that this was his day. Of course both would like to leave as champions but the Portuguese will wear it for the third year and in the Olympic Games. It ended in huge celebration, the athletes and spectators very happy for the success of both finalists.
Georgia had two athletes in for a chance to win a bronze medal, first up was judo legend and fan favourite, Liparteliani. It was a great contest between the now six-time world medallist and Kukolj, the pair knew each other well in the -90kg category. Today it was in favour of the Serbian and Liparteliani was sent to the repechage to face Arman ADAMIAN (RJF). The pair fought in the 2019 European Games final and Adamian took the glory but not today, the Georgian couldn’t leave without a medal. Eventually it was Michael KORREL (NED) who was the bronze medal challenger and with such a huge history it really could have gone either way, both talented judoka.
2020 Junior European champion, Ilia SULAMANIDZE (GEO) takes his first senior world medal.
Number one seed, Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) adds a bronze medal to collection, now tallying six world medals.
Both Georgia and the Netherlands have had a great tournament but this point went to the former. ‘Lipo’ took the bronze and sixth medal at a world championships. As soon as this contest was over, the -100kg bronze medal winner was back in focus to support his team mate, 19 year-old, 2020 junior European champion Ilia SULAMANIDZE.
This was a repeat of this years Tbilisi Grand Slam, where unfortunately Sulamanidze suffered defeat to Shady ELNAHAS (CAN). It seemed like the young Georgian couldn’t be stopped today following his win against Olympic medallist, Elmar GASIMOV (AZE) but the reigning world champion stopped him in the semi final. This loss didn’t deter him and he managed a beautiful win to take his first senior world medal.
Fonseca was not the only returning world champion today, Madeleine MALONGA (FRA) was also returning to ensure her reign of the -78kg category was not over. Despite a strong opposition throughout the day, Malonga ended the morning as a finalist, facing Anna Maria WAGNER (GER). The German who had yet to win a major senior medal had defeated UMEKI Mami (JPN) to take this place and a guaranteed medal in Budapest, an emotional win.
Though both had put on a tremendous performance, Wagner was the ultimate champion. Eighteen years since the last German woman took a world title in Hamilton 1993, Wagner was able to stand on top of the podium and hear the German anthem. Due to the circumstances of the event, it has been missing the atmosphere of a world championships, but when she received the gold medal, she was overcome with emotion, the reality setting in. This medal and title not just for her, but her team as well.
It was an unfortunate end for the Dutch women in the -78kg category, having to go in for yet another head to head in the bronze contest. Though the Olympic selection has already been announced and Guusje STEENHUIS will be competing in Tokyo, it was still a fierce meeting between her and Marhinde VERKERK. Both have world medals to speak of, Steenhuis took silver in Baku, 2018 where Verkerk picked up the bronze, but the latter has a collection of world achievements, including a title from Rotterdam in 2009.
Today however, was their 15th head to head in competition, an unbelievable record dating back to the 2014 Paris Grand Slam. At 35 years-old it is undeniable that Verkerk has had a tremendous career in judo and is an ambassador for the sport in the Netherlands, as her last tournament this was always going to be an emotional result, win or lose.
Steenhuis who is seven years her junior has been chasing Verkerk for a long time, missing out on the Rio selection as it went to the more senior team mate. Now, the tables have turned and another win for Steenhuis is a confirmation of the decision. Of course the contest was hard but it finished in a beautiful way, respect for Verkerk, the pair keeping each other at the top of their game with their national rivalry.
Day six was an incredible day for Europe taking seven of the eight available medals. The final day of the World Championships 2021 will begin at 10:00 (local time) and will see the +78kg and +100kg categories take on the challenge of awarding the 2021 champion.
Author: Thea Cowen