11 February 2024


Györ European Open 2024


Unseeded, unknown to spectators, but Ariela SANCHEZ BENITEZ (ESP) certainly left her mark on day one of the Gyor European Open 2024, debuting as a Spanish athlete. The 23 year-old is tall, strong and focussed, even from her first head to head, she was dominant, and her beautiful judo immediately made her one to watch in the -63kg category.

Though debuting for Spain, Sanchez has been on the circuit before, securing a bronze in the Madrid European Open, winning a Panamerican Open and even though she finished 7th in the Zagreb Grand Prix, she took out the likes of Laura FAZLIU (KOS) and Inbal SHEMESH (ISR).

Madrid European Open bronze medal. © Gabi Juan

About six years I moved to Spain from Dominican Republic, when I was a child. I have always thought about staying in Spain and living there and becoming Spanish. 

So why haven’t we seen more of Sanchez?

I had a big injury two years ago with my shoulder, and then after that appendicitis, only when I first asked for medical attention they turned me away saying it was nothing and it became much much worse, a terrible infection. So because of this I had to stop training for six or seven months completely, with nothing to do. So from 21 years old, I have not been able to do judo properly or sometimes even at all.

-63kg final: Ariela SANCHEZ BENITEZ (ESP) and Natalia KROPSKA (POL) © Carlos Ferreira

I thought about finishing, changing nationalities and starting again and so this is my first tournament for Spain. These two years I wasn’t good but I worked really hard and was thinking about winning and this moment, so I felt really good with a lot of confidence, I really love being on the tatami. 

The now-Spanish athlete is based in Valencia and by her side and in the coaching chair today was Sugoi URIARTE and he explained,

In her first fight she had a little bit of nerves about stepping on the tatami again but after this one she was feeling really good, each one she felt more confidence and she knew she had come today to win the gold medal. 

New nation. New journey. Gold for Sanchez. © Carlos Ferreira

In the final, my opponent had a good level but I was thinking my uchi mata and o uchi were strong, I scored with this, felt a little too much confidence and relaxed a little I think, and then my opponent felt it and came back at me hard. I made this little mistake and she took the score so after this moment I started again, started fresh and needed to win so went back to my original plan and won the fight. 

We will see Sanchez again in two weeks time in the Warsaw European Open. Watch this space.


Author: Thea Cowen