This weekend Portugal will be ready to host athletes from 44 nations for their first ever Grand Prix event, cementing their new status on the IJF World Tour.
As the first event of the year, the judo community is abuzz with the return of the top athletes to the tatami including the hosts’ double world champion Jorge FONSECA and four-time European champion, four-time world finalist Telma MONTEIRO. Of course, Portugal have a strong entry, 35 to be exact, with great hope that they will be picking up some results.
Aside from the star-studded Portuguese team, Europe are giving us plenty to get excited about, IJF tour staples with world titles; Matthias CASSE (BEL), Nemanja MAJDOV (SRB) and Nikoloz SHERAZADISHVILI (ESP) who will be in his new category of -100kg and in the women’s, Olympic champion Distria KRASNIQI will be looking to steal the show as she returns to the -52kg category.
However, on the tails of our regular senior medallists, there is a younger crowd chasing. With a new qualification cycle on the horizon, they are hungry for the experience to prepare them for the points-picking.
Hungary have solid chances in the mens categories with SIPOCZ Richard, the now seven-time continental champion from cadet, junior and U23 level as well as GOZ Roland, another junior success at both continental and world level. The pair have had their taste of senior glory though, Goz with a European open gold and a Grand Prix bronze for Sipocz at home in Budapest.
The 2021 junior world championships saw some fresh talent make their mark prior to embarking on the senior circuit, with two of those champions; Giorgi SHERAZADISHVILI (GEO) and Joanne VAN LIESHOUT (NED) vying for their place along the top dogs. It will be a long road for the pair and many of the junior athletes who need to climb but the promise is there.
A real diamond in the rough and possibly the youngest in the event is 2021 cadet European champion and junior European silver medallist, Aydan VALIYEVA (AZE). The young Azeri talent popped up in 2020 and quickly found her way to the podium at cadet level, and since made it clear she has something special, and by the looks of it, the Azerbaijan federation would agree. She will of course potentially come head to head with some very strong contenders including Catarina COSTA (POR) and Andrea STOJADINOV (SRB), but this will certainly be the beginning of an exciting career.
The three-day Grand Prix event will begin on Friday, providing a weekend of fantastic judo. All the action can be found at live.ijf.org.
Author: Thea Cowen