We are officially on our week countdown to the draw of the European Judo Championships 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. Covid-19 postponed the 2020 edition which was held in November in Prague, Czech Republic so our returning champions haven’t even held their titles for an entire year yet. Will they be able to continue their reign?
Most of our current champions are missing from the line up, perhaps with Grand Slam events and the World Championships almost on our doorstep it is unsurprising. Those we will be without are; Shirine BOUKLI (FRA) -48kg, KARAKAS Hedvig (HUN) -57kg, Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA) -63kg, Madeleine MALONGA (FRA) -78kg, Romane DICKO (FRA), Robert MSHVIDOBADZE (RUS) -60kg, Victor STERPU (MDA) -73kg, Tato GRIGALASHVILI (GEO) -81kg and Tamerlan BASHAEV (RUS) +100kg.
First up, returning to stake her claim in the -52kg category is Odette GIUFFRIDA (ITA). She comes in as the number two seed next week and in with a good chance of securing a medal if not another title with the likeliness being that she meets Amandine BUCHARD (FRA) for a gruelling finale if both the top seeds dominate in their halves.
We’re looking not so much at a continental battle in the -70kg but an unfortunate all-French battle between current World Champion Marie Eve GAHIE and current European Champion Margaux PINOT. Ranked first and second in the world ranking list respectively, the fight for that Olympic spot could not be closer or as tragic in this case. Both have put in extraordinary performances in this qualifying period, proving that either one could take the place for the Tokyo Games, and with the majority of the team already selected, we wait to see which of these women will come out on top in Lisbon.
On to the men, it is yet another neck and neck for a single country, but this time it is Azerbaijan. In the -66kg category, Orkhan SAFAROV took his place on top of the podium in the 2020 European Championships and has secured his place at #20 in the WRL, but following closely behind is teammate Nijat SHIKHALIZADA at #21 with the latter picking up important points in the Antalya Grand Slam, taking bronze. Without the usual surprises, seeding typically counts for a lot and Safarov has pipped his teammate to the post, taking the final seeding position in Lisbon, but will it be enough?
Following great success in the Budapest Grand Slam and European Championships, Mikhail IGOLNIKOV (RUS) seemed to be back on top of the -90kg category with some astounding performances. However, there appeared to be an issue in the IJF World Masters as he was unable to continue and withdrew from his bronze medal contest, perhaps to avoid any further injury. He has certainly been missed from the recent Grand Slam events but the -90kg category has all but one of the top eight competing so we are guaranteed a spectacle.
Finally, Peter PALTCHIK (ISR) is the last of our current European title holders to be competing in Lisbon, undoubtedly hoping to add another gold medal to his collection but it won’t come easy. There is seriously strong competition in the form of #1 seed Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) as well as current World Champion, Jorge FONSECA (POR) but looking even further down the entry list there are some newer faces emerging on the scene who are causing concern including Ilia SULAMINADZE (GEO) who recently took bronze in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam and then a silver at home in Tbilisi.
There will be no easy rides for our returning champions and nine categories can already guarantee a new face taking home the gold. With the excitement building around the pinnacle of the EJU calendar, we can only make predictions and wish all of the athletes the best of luck.
Author: Thea Cowen