8 May 2024


Astana Grand Slam 2024


It is the second last opportunity for those on the IJF World Tour to collect big points for Olympic qualification, some nations have doubled entries in categories that are still lacking representation for Paris. With many of the top seeds preparing for the fast approaching World Championships, this gives the space for those who tend to just miss out on the podium to snatch some glory, or for the higher ranked to put themselves in tactically better positions.

In the lightweight -60kg category, the entry is Asian-dominant among the seeded athletes, seeing only Ramazan ABDULAEV (AIN), Yam WOLCZAK (ISR) and Michel AUGUSTO (BRA) break in to the top eight. The 21 year-old Wolczak has been slowly making his way on to the senior circuit, and felt a break through in the Tbilisi Grand Slam, winning an impressive silver medal. Abdulaev on the other hand, rarely misses the podium, or at the very least, takes a placing position, in fact the last time he didn’t was in March 2021. Since then he has claimed two Grand Slam titles in Baku, silver medals in Paris and Abu Dhabi, as well as the gold medal in Dushanbe last year when the event was still a Grand Prix. Evidently the calibre for the #2 seed is incredible and it’ll take a real champion to keep him off the podium this weekend.

Elios MANZI and Matteo PIRAS (ITA) © Gabi Juan

Olympic hopeful for the host nation of France, Walide KHYAR, is sitting in the third position of the seeding behind the Uzbekistan double act; Mukhriddin TILOVOV and Sardor NURILLAEV, only one pair in the -66kg category fighting for their national spot ahead of Paris. At #6 and #7 in the seeding we have Elios MANZI and Matteo PIRAS of Italy, also locked in a battle with only 70 points separating them in the world ranking list. Further down the entry list are a host of potentials, including European Championships silver medallist, Muhammed DEMIREL (TUR).

The -73kg men begin to separate themselves from the lighter weights who have their acrobatic styles, and there are some big names ready for a performance. Shakhram AKHADOV (UZB) is a fan favourite, followed by Italy’s Manuel LOMBARDO. From the back end of 2023, Lombardo was looking top of his game, winning medals in the Tokyo Grand Slam and European Open Championships, and more recently a gold in the Tashkent Grand Slam. Of course, judo wouldn’t be judo without potential upset and we can expect that from Danil LAVRENTEV (AIN) who Hidayat HEYDAROV (AZE) described as ‘extremely strong and difficult’ following the European final in Zagreb two weeks ago. Though Heydarov secured the title in the end, it was no easy feat. Further down the list is Valtteri OLIN (FIN), who narrowly missed out on the European bronze medal to Joan-Benjamin GABA (FRA), having defeated the likes of #3 seed this week, Makhmadbek MAKHMADBEKOV (AIN).

Danil LAVRENTEV (AIN) © Carlos Ferreira

This week will be a great opportunity for those on the cusp of qualification in the -81kg category, however for those with secured spots, there is potential for huge jumps in to seeded position in the Olympic Games. Sagi MUKI (ISR) currently sits at #16 in the WRL but the former World Champion is in the second seeded place in Astana, followed by Attila UNGVARI (HUN) and Joao FERNANDO (POR), who took his first Grand Slam medal in Antalya this year. Mihail LATISEV (MDA) is still finding his footing on the senior circuit but has so far shown promise. A surprise in Zagreb came from Maxim TRIGUB (IRL), defeating the WRL #5 Zelim TCKAEV (AZE) in the opening rounds, so keep your eyes open for the younger entries this week, he will be competing against much more senior athletes including Khasan KHALMURZAEV and Alan KHUBETSOV (AIN).

As for the -90kg category, it is a who’s who of some of the greatest judoka in the weight category, World Champions, finalists, Continental Champions, the competition is tough. Ivan Felipe SILVA MORALES (CUB) is always a class act and is top seed this week, followed by his Pan American team mate Rafael MACEDO (BRA). Then in steps the European Judo team. Former World and European Champion Nemanja MAJDOV (SRB) is on week three of medal hunting, with Mikhail IGOLNIKOV (AIN) right behind him who is looking to get his groove back. Newer faces on the block include #5 seed Tristani MOSAKHLISHVILI (ESP) who was devastated by #7 seed and eventual European Champion, Eljan HAJIYEV (AZE). It has been an astounding year for Hajiyev, and a gold medal here would send him in front of his team mate Murad FATIYEV in the world ranking list. His dreams could come true sooner than he’s previously thought and he can practically touch the Olympic ticket.

Nurlykhan SHARKHAN (KAZ) © Gabi Juan

If we thought the -90kg men would provide excitement, we can say the same if not more looking at the top four of the -100kg category alone. Off the bat we have double World Champion; Jorge FONSECA (POR), technical and tactical whiz, Peter PALTCHIK (ISR), Dushanbe silver medallist, Daniel EICH (SUI) and the current Olympic Champion, WOLF Aaron (JPN). Following this incredible line up, Nurlykhan SHARKHAN (KAZ) will be the favourite in front of the Kazakhstan home crowd, and the Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist will deliver no matter what at home. Germany are still trying to qualify athletes in this category, so Astana will be a huge chance for either George UDSILAURI or Louis MAI to break in to the qualification zone.

Last week we had Teddy RINER (FRA) as the star factor of the +100kg category, and this week we have SAITO Tatsuru (JPN). The latter came so close to catching Riner in the final of the Antalya Grand Slam this year, not only playing a tactical match but Riner narrowly escaped being scored against. It was a devastating loss for Saito but he is back this week to take on the likes of WRL #2 Temur RAKHIMOV (TJK), Andy GRANDA (CUB) and Martti PUUMALAINEN (FIN) in the top positions. As the German team are looking to do in the -100kg, Türkiye are pushing their heavyweight men; Munir ERTUG and Ibrahim TATAROGLU are #30 and #33 in the WRL respectively, but this could be the opportunity they need to push up the ranking.

Follow the draw on the 11th of May and all action throughout the weekend at JudoTV.com or download the JudoTV app with live notifications for your favourite athletes!


Author: Thea Cowen