18 March 2024


Tbilisi Grand Slam 2024


After an exciting week in Linz, Austria, the IJF World Judo Tour heads back east to one of judo’s leading nations; Georgia. The capital of Tbilisi is getting set to host 557 judoka from an eye-watering 83 nations, but for the national team, this isn’t simply a chance to take a medal, but to earn a place in Georgian history.

There are a couple of names missing from the Georgian roster however, Tato GRIGALASHVILI is absent from the -81kg entry, the -100kg athletes Ilia SULAMANIDZE and team captain, Varlam LIPARTELIANI, won’t be competing, nor will the three-time Tbilisi Grand Slam winner, Gela ZAALISHVILI in the +100kg category.

Instead, let’s look at who will be preparing for an at-home performance. In the -60kg category, Giorgi SARDALASHVILI (WRL #6) leads the lightweight men, and Olympic silver medallist, Vazha MARGVELASHVILI will be leading the charge in the -66kg category, alongside up-and-comer, Junior European Champion, Tengo ZIRAKASHVILI. In the -73kg weight class, first to earn European, World and Olympic titles for Georgia is Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI who is looking to continue his legacy in Paris this year. There is a good chance this could be a final hurrah for the 32 year-old who already has a full collection of accolades, and so many will be looking for the next big name to take his place. During the Paris Grand Slam, Georgia may have already delivered with the unseeded Giorgi CHIKHELIDZE who has now bounded up the world ranking list to #68, following a silver medal win the Bercy Arena. A small team of four will be in attendance from Japan, with HASHIMOTO Soichi included, putting up stiff competition in the -73kg category.

Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (GEO) defeated HASHIMOTO Soichi (JPN) in the 2022 Paris Grand Slam final. © Gabi Juan

In the absence of their top ranked Grigalashvili, there are a host of potentials, Dimitri GOCHILAIDZE took fifth place last year, followed up with a bronze in the Upper Austria Grand Prix, Zaur DVALASHVILI became the U23 European Champion last year and joined Gochilaidze on the podium in Austria. One judoka who hasn’t been so present on the circuit is 24 year-old Vladimir AKHALKATSI, who became the U23 European Champion in 2018 and Junior World Champion the following year. Finally, wrapping up a strong group is Kote KAPANADZE who has transcended from the -73kg category, having quite the run last year, defeating the World Champion, TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL) among others and settled for fifth place.

Many have been waiting for the return of the -90kg Olympic Champion, Lasha BEKAURI. The last time on the tatami for Bekauri was as member of the Paris Saint Germain squad in the European Club Championships in Belgrade, alongside superstar Teddy RINER. His second in this category is Giorgi JABNIASHVILI who most recently defeated TOTH Krisztian for the bronze medal in Austria. Another Georgian name in the line up is Anri EGUTIDZE but is representative of Portugal. Nevertheless, he will receive an equal amount of support from the home crowd, as will double World Champion, Nikoloz SHERAZADISHVILI (ESP) in the -100kg category. Onise SANEBLIDZE may have experienced a lull in his results over the past year and a half, but before this he was a regular on the podium, among those wins was a Grand Slam gold in Tbilisi and now the weight will be on his shoulders in the -100kg category.

As already mentioned, the three-time title holder, Zaalishvili won’t be competing, however there won’t be an absence in performance with Olympic silver medallist Guram TUSHISHVILI leading the +100kg group. Last week there was an Olympic final rematch against Lukas KRPALEK, and the current champion claimed it to be a harder contest than in Tokyo, the race is becoming a lot closer as we near the next big one in Paris and the defending champion felt it. Of course there are still the younger generation who are more than capable of standing on the podium including Saba INANEISHVILI and Irakli DEMETRASHVILI. This heavyweight group is offering up the feeling of a major championship; Andy GRANDA (CUB) heads the group as the top seed, followed by Riner and Tushishvili, and a little further down the list is Germany’s rising star and medallist from Austria last week, Losseni KONE.


Author: Thea Cowen