22 March 2024


Tbilisi Grand Slam 2024


Down to the final five. The Olympic Games is practically on our doorstep and the top athletes in the world are honing their skills before the major tournament in Paris. This week we are in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where judo isn’t just a sport, but part of the nation’s fabric. One of their top Olympic sports, delivering champions and medallists, sending home heroes to inspire the future generations.

From the World Cup and Grand Prix status, this tournament has become one of the most popular Grand Slams on the IJF World Tour, evident with over 500 athletes from 83 nations inscribed. The focus however, was very much on Team Georgia today, with many fresh faces as well as their A-Team who are preparing for Paris.

On day one, it was Eteri LIPARTELIANI in the -57kg category that managed to claim the semi final, taking on Kaja KAJZER of Slovenia for a place in the final, a guaranteed medal, and at this point, all important ranking points which will continue to decide the seeding fate. Well in to golden score, with two shidos a piece, Liparteliani bided her time and managed to place herself to execute a sumi gaeshi. The scored was briefly debated but the shoulder landing was clear, earning Georgia the opportunity for gold. Liparteliani will meet the number two seed and former World Champion, Jessica KLIMKAIT for the top place on the podium.

Georgia’s only other chance for a medal will come from the top seed of the -60kg category, Giorgi SARDALASHVILI. Unfortunately for the Georgian front runner, he suffered defeat to Yam WOLCZAK (ISR) in the quarter final and was sent to the repechage, to play out last years final against Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE). Sardalashvili wasn’t willing to take the loss again, and defeated Bayramov to fight for bronze.

It seemed Wolczak was simply unstoppable today, first making a name for himself during the 2022 Senior World Championships in Tashkent, then only 18 years-old, he accepted a bitter sweet ending with a fifth place, but today found his footing, and with relative ease defeated his semi final opponent with a huge uki goshi to seal his place in the final.

LEE Hyekyeong (KOR) was the only seeded judoka in the -48kg to make it to the final as a surprise success will take her on for gold. Though there aren’t many new faces popping up, aside from the host team, France sent a couple of potentials including eventual finalist; Laura ESPADINHA. Most recently Espadinha earned her first continental open medal, a silver in Warsaw, and now will take home another silver medal at the very least, only at a significantly higher level. This is a hard weight category to break through in France, already we see the likes of Shirine BOUKLI and Blandine PONT, but Espandinha is currently #62 in the world ranking list, and after today will most certainly make a jump up.

Many hopes were pinned on Vazha MARGVELASHVILI in the -66kg category, as well as Georgia’s current Junior European Champion, Tengo ZIRAKASHVILI, however it was the Pan-American and Asian athletes that took control of the category, however today Europe are still in for a chance either bronze medal; Rashad YELKIYEV (AZE) will compete against Willian LIMA (BRA), and in the other half; Ruslan PASHAYEV gives Azerbaijan another shot, but this time against Italy’s Matteo PIRAS.

In the -52kg category there was a huge surprise from Ariane TORO SOLER (ESP), after securing two Grand Slam bronze medals this year, focus was on the final and after a 10 minute battle against top seed and current Olympic Champion, Distria KRASNIQI, Toro Soler scored ippon. The competition is not over of course, and the final opponent in her way of glory is Ana Viktorija PULJIZ (CRO) who has guaranteed her first Grand Slam medal today already in this all-European final.


Author: Thea Cowen