The Tbilisi Grand Slam, or any Georgian-hosted event for that matter is always greatly anticipated given that their knowledgable and passionate, not to mention patriotic fans, flock to watch their superstars. Day one was no different as the front rows were quickly filled with the world-renowned supporters.
Despite the great presence, it wasn’t a particularly strong day for the host team; Eteri LIPARTELIANI (-57kg) lost out in her first contest to Nekoda SMYTHE DAVIS (GBR); Temur NOZADZE (-60kg) was defeated by Portugal’s Rodrigo Costa LOPES, both of whom finished with 7th place today, as did former world champion, Lukhumi CHKHVIMIANI (GEO). It wasn’t a complete loss for Team Georgia however, and there was a big chance for gold yet to come.
But let’s start with the women.
The -48kg category was strong today, including the Italian power duo Francesca MILANI and Assent SCUTTO, however it was the Serbian pair, Milica NIKOLIC and Andrea STOJADINOV that battled their way to the final.
In 2022, -48kg Stojadinov claimed the worst year of her career so far, after being successful as a junior and collecting multiple U23 European medals, she was finding her transition to senior level somewhat difficult. Then 2023 arrived, prepped in the Mittersill OTC she went on to collect her first Grand Slam gold medal in Tashkent and today she arrived, once again to the final in the Tbilisi Grand Slam, climbing up from her world ranking position of 21. However, in her way was team mate Nikolic.
Today, Nikolic marked her fifth Grand Slam, yet prior to this, had never managed to stand on top of the podium. It was a tough head to head for the team mates, with the less experienced of the two, Stojadinov picking up two shidos, and eventually a third for passivity. A tactical win in the bag for Nikolic and more importantly, her first Grand Slam title. Though these are critical qualification points for Stojadinov, it looks like it will continue to be a national battle to earn a place in Paris 2024.
Now the final the home crowd were all waiting for with bated breath. The 19 year-old -60kg Giorgi SARDALASHVILI (GEO) took a silver medal here last year, defeated by his team mate Nozadze in the ultimate final. Today however, he found himself against an opponent he will likely face for the majority of his career, Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE).
This is their fourth head to head, and on the first two occasions, Sardalashvili came out on top, namely in the Junior World Championships 2021. The next was in the 2022 edition of the Tbilisi Grad slam, with success in the quarter final against the Azeri athlete. However Bayramov started to change the narrative in the IJF Masters only a few months ago. Today demonstrated why they should be in the final with yet another ballistic contest. Quickly Sardalashvili acquired two shidos and he acted out of desperation and panic, allowing Bayramov to put the first score on the board with a seoi nage. The Georgian levelled the score with a counter attack but today the gold medal was for Bayramov following a second waza ari score.
The -52kg final was as the seeding predicted. The arena welcomed the current -48kg Olympic champion, Distria KRASNIQI (KOS) and three-time Grand Slam winner, Diyora KEDIYOROVA (UZB). The Uzbek team were quick to celebrate, not only one, but two waza ari scores within 40 seconds of contest time, the first with seoi otoshi. This not only added to her IJF World Tour collection, but a win against the Olympic champion was a major accomplishment.
Though Europe weren’t able to claim glory in the -66kg final with YONDONPERENLEI Baskhuu (MGL) and Kubanychbek AIBEK UULU (KGZ), the bronze medals were something to celebrate. In fact, the home crowd were hoping for one of them from Vazha MARGVELASHVILI but Matteo PIRAS (ITA) came up with the score and finished off with osae komi. The other bronze went to to current European champion and Paris Grand Slam winner Bogdan IADOV (UKR).
The concluding final was the -57kg contest between current Olympic champion, Nora GJAKOVA (KOS) and Marica PERISIC (SRB). Having already defeated one half of the Kosovo entry in her quarter, Perisic really had her work cut out for her against Gjakova but the pair were finding it equally difficult to get past the kumi kata, resulting in two shidos each with one minute left on the clock. The Serbian athlete may have been instigating the attacks but they weren’t convincing enough for a score. It still didn’t come in the end for Perisic but her control of the bout and her positive approach saw Gjakova pick up a third shied for passivity.
So in the end, Serbia opened and closed with golden success, and a first grand slam title for both of the Nikolic and Perisic, putting their team at the top of the medal table on day one.
Author: Thea Cowen