We’re back. Following an incredibly exciting European Club Championships in Gori in December, the IJF World Tour is now back in the Caucasus for the greatly anticipated Tbilisi Grand Slam. As judo is one of the most popular sports in their nation, the crowds are arguably one of the best on the tour, and we compare with the likes of the knowledgable French and performing bands of Uzbekistan. The Georgian athletes and coaches speak of their national pride and fighting spirit to be in their blood, that it is for their people they fight. So who do we have to gear up the crowd over the three-day event (24th-26th March)?
Rounding off 2022, Georgia boasted three world ranked number one athletes; two have remained in the front running positions; Lasha SHAVDATUASHVILI (-73kg) and Tato GRIGALASHVILI (-81kg) with Ilia SULAMANIDZE (-100kg) sliding in to number two. That won’t make a difference this weekend however as he the top seed in the category. Actually, six of the men’s categories will see a Georgian in the number one place, including the Tel Aviv Grand Slam winner Vazha MARGVELASHVILI in -66kg.
In fact we can look forward to the performance of a 41-strong host team, 13 of which are from the women’s team. Eteri LIPARTELIANI (-57kg) who is number three seed and Sophio SOMKHISHVILI (+78kg) are the better known on the world tour but the ever-increasing numbers is a great sign for Georgia. In 2021, there were seven entries, 11 in 2022 and once again and incremental improvement can be seen.
In the 2022 edition, we saw some nail-biting performances, especially in the -60kg category between rising superstar Giorgi SARDALASHVILI and Temur NOZADZE. The pair reached the final and in the end, Nozadze took the win, but both are in the line up once again so hopefully another stellar head to head is on the cards.
Georgia are one of the nations who have multiple top ranked athletes in each of the men’s categories, and this weekend we are getting the full arsenal. In the -90kg category we have current Olympic champion, Lasha BEKAURI, current European champion, Luka MAISURADZE and grand slam title collecting machine, Beka GVINIASHVILI who will in fact be defending his 2022 title at home.
For the -100kg, there is the IJF Masters champion, Sulamanidze, though we are missing the recent Tashkent Grand Slam winner and Georgian team captain, Varlam LIPARTELIANI. Instead there is 19 year-old Mikheil JAPARIDZE, 2022 junior European bronze medallist who recently took a bronze in the Sofia European Open. As if this wasn’t enough, the finalists of the 2022 edition, Onise SANEBLIDZE and Giorgi BERIASHVILI are looking to be on that podium.
In the heaviest of the categories, +100kg, there is a real battle of the beasts. Olympic finalist, Guram TUSHISHVILI continues on his quest to redeem himself and become the Olympic champion, but he has some serious young talent to contend with. Both Gela ZAALISHVILI and Saba INANEISHVILI are coming for the gold in Tbilisi. Zaalishvili has taken this title two years in a row now, with 2023 giving him the possibility of a hat-trick, and it won’t simply be his team mates to contend with, even though this national championship style entry is strong enough for most, we are also looking at Andy GRANDA (CUB) and ODKHUU Tsetsentsengel (MGL) in the front running positions. In fact, this is the only men’s category that isn’t headed by Georgian talent.
Author: Thea Cowen