Opening the final block on day one of the Paris Grand Slam 2024 were the -48kg athletes. Quickly, Europe were able to celebrate wins from both Laura MARTINEZ ABELENDA (ESP) and Assunta SCUTTO (ITA), but the fate of the gold medal was left to the current Olympic Champion and France’s Olympic selection, Shirine BOUKLI.
The French athletes thrives competing in front of a home crowd and used their energy in Montpellier last year to once again secure a European title, but the atmosphere in the Accor Arena or the Bercy, is something else. Trying to stand in her way of the gold medal was KOGA Wakana (JPN), and she dragged her in to golden score. On a couple of occasions, Boukli almost scored with a tomoe nage, and then Koga with o uchi gari, only contributing more to the cheers of the crowd. Finally, Boukli secured the osae komi two and a half minutes in to golden score and she could celebrate her first Paris Grand Slam gold.
It’s my first Grand Slam win in Paris. It’s great to start the year like this. The win gives me confidence. When the waza-ari was cancelled, I was telling myself: Don’t be a spectator in this fight, be active and secure the gold medal! This is a really personal tournament for me, I wanted the win for myself and my heart. It is different from any other competition, I prepared for this event like it was a European Championship, that’s how important it is to me.
Europe were guaranteed a bronze medal in the -60kg category, either current World Champion Francisco GARRIGOS (ESP) or Dilshot KHALMATOV (UKR) were going to stand on the podium. Concluding the contest was a third shido issued to Khalmatov within the first half the contest, the experience and contest management evident on the side of Garrigos.
Current European Champion and Olympic medallist, Luka MKHEIDZE (FRA) was following the success of Boukli, charging out against world bronze medallist, LEE Harim (KOR). With 20 seconds left on the board, it didn’t seem that the two shidos to Mkheidze and one to Lee reflected the contest very well, with the French athlete appearing to be moving forward more, certainly with more determination to win. The pair continued two minutes in to golden score, and unfortunately for Lee he took a third shido for prohibited leg grabbing. Another gold medal for France!
To win in front of the home crowd is just great and it’s a boost for the games. It will be the same atmosphere, the same crowd, hopefully the same feeling.
Both Mkheidze and Boukli are mirrored with their incredible journeys since Montpellier!
Moving on to the -52kg category, Spain had a chance at a third medal from Ariane TORO SOLER, but a battle would first ensue against BISHRELT Khorloodoi (UAE). Off to a slow start, the pair picked up shidos, but a tight ko uchi gari from Toro delivered her the first IJF World Tour medal in her collection, and continuing to follow in her European champion and Olympic bronze medallist mother’s, Yolanda SOLER’s footsteps.
A battle of the titans took place for the gold medal, and regardless of the end result, this was going to be the seventh medal for Distria KRASNIQI in the Paris Grand Slam, an astounding feat. Taking on the -48kg Olympic Champion was Olympic bronze medalist, Chelsie GILES (GBR). As both are wonderful technicians, the French crowd were anticipating greatness. First came the o uchi gari from Krasniqi, scoring waza ari, and with just over a minute left on the clock, Giles had to work quickly to pull it back. In the end, the world ranked number one took an impressive third title in the Bercy.
I’m happy I finished good in -48kg and I’m at the top now in -52kg, so I hope I can finish it well too! [she laughs] Talking about Chelsie [GILES] I think her height isn’t such an issue for me, if anything I think it works well and she is a really good opponent, she is always strong and her ne waza is perfect I have to be so careful!
David GARCIA TORNE (ESP) was the only European competing in the -66kg category for Europe in todays final block, but was faced with double Olympic medallist, AN Baul (KOR). It seemed the pair were at a stalemate, picking up two shidos each, but then magic happened in ne waza for Garcia as he broke free the grip of An in order to secure juju gatame and his first Paris Grand Slam medal, making this his sixth tour medal. Garcia caught the eye of many last year and has remained consistent, today was just another day on his way to the top.
I don’t think about my judo so much when I’m on the mat but when I watch it back and have feedback online, I like it too, somewhat impressed actually! In the final, this is my favourite move in ne waza so I practice it a lot in training.
In the -57kg category, France were guaranteed at least one medal, but had potential for two. Olympic silver medallist Sarah Leonie CYSIQUE was first to try and take some glory for the home nation against European silver medallist, Marica PERISIC (SRB). It may have taken a little time, but the French crowd were able to get on their feet for Cysique as she countered an ashi waza attempt with te waza to take the win.
Concluding the tournament today was double World Champion Christa DEGUCHI (CAN) and the underdog, Faiza MOKDAR (FRA). Though she carries junior European titles and isn’t a stranger to success on the IJF World Tour, taking two Grand Slam bronze medals previously, the Paris Grand Slam gold wasn’t something many had predicted for her today, especially with the highest ranked athletes in the world standing in her way, not to mention team mate Cysique. As it goes, when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain, which was exactly her story today. Clinching that gold medal and a third round for the French national anthem, was a driving seoi nage as Deguchi came on a little too enthusiastically.
Stunning not only the crowd, but perhaps herself a little, Mokdar simply stood up to bow and gave a small thumbs up to her supporters, a celebration a little different to that of the coach in her chair, Automne PAVIA. It is something special to win here, but for a French judoka, something even more incredible and she has joined the legacy that is the Paris Grand Slam.
Author: Thea Cowen