Not to be mistaken for the 50th birthday of the event which was celebrated in 2021, this year, along with the French Judo Federation, we celebrate the 50th edition of the Paris Grand Slam.
Formerly recognised as the Tournoi de Paris, and perhaps will always be affectionately called so, this event is the highlight of the annual calendar for many, even surpassing the major championships. It may have Grand Slam status now, but from its establishment in 1971, the worlds greatest have come to be crowned champion. It could be as judo is such a popular sport in France, resulting in the rapid growth of the event, and the addition of women in 1988 in the single event, it was moved from the Stade Pierre-de-Coubertin to the Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy in 2000.
After increasing the spectatorship potential to 18,000, the Bercy underwent renovation and was renamed the AccorHotel Arena, and with this change, became a Grand Slam. Many know the history and the names that are associated with it, but how does it feel to be a part of this incredible legacy? We spoke to previous French champions to learn what it means to become victor in front of a sensational home crowd. One of the first women to achieve the champion status for the French was Cecile NOWAK, ’09 World Champion and ’92 Olympic Champion and four-time European Champion.
Cécile NOWAK (1989, ’90, ’91, ’93)
I’m very proud to have taken part in and won the Paris tournament four times, and to be one of the first women to experience mixed sport and judo at the Paris tournament. A wonderful adventure. France is a land of judo, champions and expertise. The French Judo Federation has succeeded in making the Paris tournament the most prestigious in the world. Everything is in place for the magic to happen: world and Olympic medallists from all over the world, an arena worthy of the event, a loyal public that fills every row of the Arena, entertainment on the mat and in the corridors.
Céline LEBRUN (1997, 2001, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’09)
The Paris tournament is the first international tournament I ever took part in and won! So for me, it’s obviously part of my history! So to be part of its history with so many other judokas is a great honor for me. I’m very touched. This tournament is just magical and grandiose, both on the tatami and in the stands! And yes, the show is put on by all the fighters (the best judokas in the world fight here), in front of a wonderful audience that supports each athlete in his or her battle. The show is really everywhere!
Daniel ‘Dany’ FERNANDES (2001, ’05)
As a Frenchman, there is not only the prestige of the tournament but also the weight of the heritage. As children we dream of fighting in this tournament, the room is magnificent and fighting in front of your family and 15,000 spectators is unique. As far as international fighters are concerned, I think that the public is a connoisseur audience. It’s pleasant to fight in such an arena, plus the fighters are almost always of world class during the final stages, which adds value to the medal.
Lucie DECOSSE (2001, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11)
It’s incredible to think you’re part of the history of the Paris Tournament, it’s so prestigious, it’s a dream to win it once, so for me to have won it 7 times is even crazier, and everyone talks to me about it all the time because it’s made such an impression on people. I’m proud to be part of that history.
Paris is a spectacle, because the hall is already packed with spectators, which is rare on the circuit to have so many people. All the French judokas are encouraged and supported throughout the competition, but so are the foreign judokas, because it’s a public of connoisseurs and enthusiasts. There’s an enormous atmosphere, it’s magical. For the French, it’s fantastic to have so many supporters here, and it’s a real boost for going for the medals.
Frédérique JOSSINET (2002, ’03, ’06)
It’s always a source of pride, of course – but what matters most to me is the communion with the public that I still enjoy today. All the people I meet at Bercy, the judo enthusiasts who tell me about my fights, my finals, the ones I’ve won and the ones I’ve lost – the Marseillaises, the atmosphere, the fervor of the public. My first tournament was at Coubertin at the age of 15, my last in 2011 at Bercy at the age of 36. I haven’t missed many… literally or figuratively!
Paris is Paris! First of all: the venue is a cauldron – it’s made for combat sports – the acoustics, the shape of the place. It’s like a stadium, an arena even. Secondly, because we’re in France and there are a lot of connoisseurs and enthusiasts. And finally, for all these reasons, all international judokas want to win Paris once in their lives, so the field is always very strong.
Gevrise EMANE (2008, ’10, ’11)
To be a part of the legacy of the Paris Grand Slam is such an honour for me as the greatest French and foreign judokas won this tournament. When you are French participating at the Paris Grand Slam, it means that you are in the way to a high level judo career, to be on the podium is a sign and winning means that you can dream big!
Paris is such a spectacle and what is so special is the crowd who really know judo, scream your name and give you the power to continue your journey and support you, no matter what! It’s so amazing! And at last, competing in front of your family, your club, your friends it’s crazy! And deeply emotional.
Paris Grand Slam is the place to be.
Automne PAVIA (2011, ’13)
Honestly I was so proud, I came to watch the event as a kid. I remember the first time I was selected for this Grand Slam, I was so happy and needed time to realise that I’d fight there. Bercy is an amazing venue, the public are fantastic, when you walk to the mat you can feel the atmosphere, the love and passion for judo. I think it’s like this for everybody, and they love to come to this special event. I love this Grand Slam and I think for any country to win here is amazing.
Author: Thea Cowen