Finally, on day three of the Tbilisi Grand Slam, the host nation were redeemed by their heavyweight men, claiming four of the six available final places.
Opening the final block were current Olympic champion Lasha BEKAURI and current European champion, Luka MAISURADZE. The home crowd, and overseeing president of the Georgian Judo Federation Giorgi ATABEGASHVILI were certainly delighted to have their countrymen fighting for a gold and even more so now that one was guaranteed.
In true Georgian style, there were multiple clinches and nail-biting moments, gasps from the crowd as a score could have easily gone either way but it was Bekauri who dug deep to take the lead in the -90kg final. Following the score, Maisuradze had the lead in terms of conditioning and it took everything Bekauri had to hold on, not only to his score but to avoid picking up a third shido. Sadly for Maisuradze, he didn’t get his golden glory in front of the home crowd but a silver medal was celebrated by his supporters nonetheless.
Now for the -78kg women. Anna-Maria WAGNER (GER), former world champion, has been trying to get back on top of her game for some time whilst Alice BELLANDI has been collecting victories. This is Bellandi’s fourth consecutive IJF World Tour final, with the previous three resulting in gold, to say the Italian has landed in this category would be an understatement. The only time the pair have met previously was in the senior world championships in Tashkent but today, it felt like a more even play and the contest went in to golden score. It seems that Wagner may be the one Bellandi needs to work on when she returns home as once again, the win went in favour of the German, a strong o uchi gari deciding her fate.
This was an important win for Wagner, and in fact, she defended her 2022 win right here in Tbilisi, the last time she stood on the podium.
Next up for Team Georgia was the world ranked #2, and IJF Masters winner, Ilia SULAMANIDZE. Like Bekauri, it has been a steep rise to fame for the 21 year-old who also has a senior world championships medal to his name, this younger generation is beginning to take control. Arguably, Sulamanidze doesn’t execute with a typical Georgian style, his fluidity and ashi waza skills oppose the wrestling-style of his team mates, but it is certainly working.
Early in the contest, a driving o soto gari gave him a waza ari score, though naturally the crowd cried for ippon, this awoke his opponent, BATKHUYAG Gonchigsuren (MGL) who came back with a score himself. Unfortunately for the Mongolian, it was reassessed and the score removed. It was a great head to head in the end and after taking a silver in 2021 and a fifth place last year, he managed to secure the gold and Tbilisi Grand Slam title and his third consecutive IJF World Tour gold.
Number one seed in the +78kg category, Raz HERSHKO (ISR) was on her A game today, and supported her seeding and ranking with her gold winning performances. She initially dashed the home nation hopes by defeating Sophio SOMKHISHVILI (GEO) and made her way through to the final against SU Xin (CHN). The heavyweight women from the People’s Republic of China have been on a dutiful world tour, covering both IJF and EJU events in an exhausting bid to gather points. Alongside finallist, Su, XU Shiyan also competed for a medal and took the bronze. The latter is in fact the higher ranked at 8 with Su at 13.
Su however, was put immediately at a disadvantage as she collected two shidos, then Hershko waited for the perfect moment and threw her opponent with a double sleeve grip seoi nage. After a home win in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, she is on a winning roll, making this her fifth title.
Gela ZAALISHVILI (GEO) was dealt the enormous responsibility of taking the gold medal in the +100kg category, competing against Munir ERTUG (TUR), the 2022 junior and U23 European silver medallist. Regardless of the result, this was Ertug’s first medal on the IJF World Tour. With the home crowd roaring and two gold medals already from the Georgian team, Zaalishvili was ready to go out there and claim a third Tbilisi Grand Slam title, for the team today and a third for his own collection. Both athletes picked up two shidos but it was a counter from the Georgian that gave him the winning waza ari score and ensured that the tournament would be concluded with the national anthem of Georgia.
Despite struggling for the first two days, the hosts still managed to pick up some medals and the men today helped them soar to the top of the medal table.
Author: Thea Cowen