There are 398 athletes competing in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam this weekend, 55 of which are in the top ten of the world ranking. Now of this extensive collection of athletes which includes numerous European, world and Olympic medallists, great focus is being put on the double Olympic champion, Clarisse AGBEGNENOU of France.
Though the whole French team are in the limelight now during this qualification period, Agbegnenou will be under particular scrutiny, as Teddy RINER was in the recent Paris Grand Slam. Five-time world champion Agbegnenou has already stepped on the tatami however it was with the backing of her club during the European Club Championships in December. She is unseeded in this event and even trails behind team mate Manon DEKETER who is 13th in the world ranking but now the competition begins.
In the lighter categories, Paris Grand Slam victors are present; Balabay AGHAYEV (AZE) and Blandine PONT (FRA), Aghayev is in fact the number one seed for -60kg whereas Pont looks lost in the seeding, which could cause early upset in the -48kg category.
Of course in front of the Israeli crowd, the athletes will be harnessing their energy and in the -66kg category they have four strong chances of a medal, especially from the athlete leading the charge, IJF Masters champion, Baruch SHMAILOV. Not only will he be carrying the weight of the most recent Masters title, but will be defending his Tel Aviv Grand Slam win from 2022.
Asia and Pan-America own the number one seeding positions in the -73kg, -57kg, -81kg and -63kg weight categories but before we head any further, Chelsie GILES (GBR) has the run of things in the -52kg category. With her developing collection of major medals, she is growing exponentially and the Tel Aviv Grand Slam gold is in sight.
IJF Ippon of the Year Award winner, Beka GVINIASHVILI (GEO) may not have had the chance to perform in Paris but he will be the number one seed this week in the -90kg category and his first contest will either be Ivaylo IVANOV (BUL) who took his first IJF World Tour gold medal in Portugal a few weeks ago as an -90kg contender, or host nation hopeful Guy GUREVITCH (ISR).
The -100kg category has the Paris Grand Slam gold medallist Michael KORREL (NED) as number one seed but it is good to see the return of Jorge FONSECA (POR). Last seen in the Baku Grand Slam last year, he wasn’t his usual dynamic self, though he started the year strong, there was a noticeable decline in his performance towards the end. After a break, many will agree they are excited to see him back in the draw with his ballistic judo style.
Arriving after the Paris Grand Slam for the training camp, Anna Maria WAGNER (GER) is excited to be back in competition on the international stage following a German National Championship win in January this year. She will have a challenging opening round against Patricia SAMPAIO (POR), another Portuguese who has been making a successful return. They also have double the trouble from the French team in this -78kg category with Madeleine MALONGA and Fanny Estelle POSVITE.
One of the great potentials for a medal in the +100kg category is Erik ABRAMOV (GER). The 23 year-old has been a junior world and European finalist on more than one occasion and has steadily made his mark on the senior circuit with grand prix and grand slam bronze medals in hand. Having defeated the number one seed Rafael SILVA (BRA) in Zagreb last year, this could be a good sign for the young German this weekend.
The IJF Masters event was a tough one for the Israeli team and this will be chance for them to rake in more medals. In the +78kg, the pressure was on for Raz HERSHKO (ISR) to deliver a gold medal, but even the bronze medal win for her was a hard slog at the end of a very busy and successful year. Now after some preparation, she is back in front of the home crowd and gunning for gold.
On both day one and day two, the competition will begin at 10:00 local time and 11:00 on day three with the final blocks commencing at 17:00 each day. Follow all the action at live.ijf.org and check out the draw now.
Author: Thea Cowen