The second day of the European Championships featured four reigning Olympic Champions and a partisan French crowd that did its utmost to sway the referees at every possible turn. But at the end of the day, it was another Belgian who stole the show as Gella Vandecaveye equalled the feats of her compatriot the previous day. Vandecaveye claimed her seventh European title, her sixth in a row, matching the record of Ulla Werbrouck, although she still has a few more championships to contest before she reaches 13 medals.
It was also a day of frustration for the spectators as, despite some early promise, not one French fighter reached a final. In fact the finals were dominated by former Soviet states as Eastern Europe demonstrated its strength.
Men's under 90kg
The overwhelming favourite for this category was the Olympic champion, Mark Huizinga of the Netherlands, and for many he was the man of the day. Huizinga took just 35 seconds to dispose of Milan Dragic in the first round with an Ippon-seoi-nage before completely outfighting Zurab Zviadauri of Georgia. Huizinga scored Yuko with another Seoi-nage and then Yuko again with sode-tsuri-kommi-goshi. Zvidauri had no answer for his attacking potency and he added another four scores, including a Wazari-ari near the end. He made short work of Dmitri Budolin in the quarter-final, scoring Ippon with a left Harai-goshi.
But his most impressive performance of the day came in the semi-final against the home fighter, Frederic Demontfaucon, in a repeat of last year's semi-final. That time, Huizinga won with a submission from Juji-jime. This time, though, the Frenchman has cause to be more confident, on home soil and after winning a bronze medal at last year's Olympics. He was also in fine form leading to the semi-final, armlocking Renato Morais of Portugal and Tobias Pfeil of Germany, and strangling Hrvoje Panzic of Croatia.
But Huizinga was at his most masterful and destroyed the Frenchman. In the first 10 seconds he scored Yuko with a left Ko-uchi-gari; in the next 10 seconds he added a Waza-ari with Seoi-nage, and within 40 seconds the fight was over as Huizinga threw Demontfaucon for Ippon with a Tani-otoshi. Even the French crowd was moved to applaud a magnificent performance.
On the other side of the draw, Rassoul Salimov of Azerbaijan was in fine form, throwing his first three opponents for Ippon with minimal fuss. Anton Novik of Belarus was the first victim and then Andre Lutz of Austria lasted a little longer as Salimov scored Waza-ari and Yuko, with a Khbarelli pick-up, before scoring Ippon with Seoi-nage.Valentyn Grekov of Ukraine was quickly dispatched and then Salimov surpassed even Huizinga's demolition of Demontfaucon in his semi-final. Salimov needed just 22 seconds to throw Khasaambi Taov of Russia for Ippon with Uchi-mata.
That set up an intriguing final, but it failed to live up to expectations. The Azerbaijani seemed to freeze in the face of the Olympic champion and seemed to accept an inevitable defeat from the off. Huizinga scored Waza-ari off a Tani-otoshi type counter to a half-hearted Uchi-mata attack. But then Salimov picked up three penalties in a disappointing finale to hand Huizinga his fourth European title. The Dutchman is now certain to be the favourite at the World Championships in Munich in July.
Demontfaucon recovered from his semi-final mauling to win the bronze medal with a hard fought victory against Przemyslav Matyjaszek of Poland. The Pole picked up a single penalty, which proved to be the decisive score. Taov, however, didn't recover so well from his semi-final loss and came up against an inspired Budolin. The Estonian scored Ippon with a brilliant Sumi-gaeshi to win his first medal at this level.
Women's under 63kg
The focus was always going to be on Gella Vandecaveye of Belgium as she attempted to win her seventh European title and match the feat achieved by Ulla Werbrouck the previous day. Vandecaveye had a tough first fight against Danielle Vriezema of the Netherlands, winning with Yuko and two Kokas, before the Ne-waza master showed dominated the rest of the competition on the ground.
Vandecaveye beat Urska Zolnir of Slovenia with reverse Kesa-gatame after throwing her for Waza-ari with a Russian-style Harai-goshi. She scored Ippon with the same hold against Noa Bauer of Israel and then had a brilliant victory in the semi-final against Ylenia Scapin of Italy. Scapin caught Vandecaveye for Yuko with Tani-otoshi, but she never got off the mat after that.
Vandecaveye had the Italian where she wanted her and after manoeuvring into her favoured reverse Kesa-gatame, she secured an Ippon victory, although at the third attempt as the referee twice called Toketa during the hold. But Vandecaveye persevered and took her place in the final.
Everyone expected a repeat of last year's final, which would have pitted the Belgian against Olympic champion, Severine Vandenhende of France. But she injured her knee in the first round when throwing Radka Stusakova of Czech Republic for Waza-ari. Stusakova did not waste her fortunate reprieve and beat Elsa Nilsson of Sweden and Bianca Geerdts of Germany en route to the semi-final. There she met one of the favourites, Claudia Heill of Austria, who had thrown Mersih Sijecic of Bosnie Herzegovina and Sara Alvarez of Spain, both for Ippon.
Neither fighter had appeared in a European final before, but Heill was the most hungry. The Austrian made short work of her opponent, scoring Ippon with Harai-maki-komi after just over one minute. Heill was absolutely delighted and leapt into the air several times raising both arms aloft.
That was to be the end of her celebrations, though, as Vandecaveye gave her a lesson in the final. The Belgian scored Yuko with a left-sided drop Seoi-nage and then rolled her over into an unorthodox hold-down that had a touch of the Georgian under 60kg fighter, Nestor Khergiani, about it. Heill couldn't escape so Vandecaveye claimed a seventh title, despite fighting with a stiff back. She burst into tears as she trudged off the mat, holding up seven fingers to the crowd.
The two beaten semi-finalists did have something to cheer, as both came back to win bronze medals. Scapin was awarded a soft Ippon against Alvarez with a falling Ko-soto-gari, and Alvarez even thought she had won. The other bronze fight was dire as Stusakova snuffed out an injured and tiring Anna Saraeva of Russia. Throughout the day Saraeva called on the medic to help a shoulder problem, but a single penalty cost her a gutsy bronze medal against the Czech.
Men's under 81 kg
The Frenchman Darcel Yandzi was given a rare chance ahead of Djamel Bouras and had high hopes of repeating his 1993 victory. Yandzi enthralled the crowd with a brilliant victory against the 1999 champion, Nuno Delgado, scoring Waza-ari with Sumi-gaeshi and then pinning him with Yoko-shiho-gatame. Delgado escaped, but not for long as another Waza-ari form Sumi-gaeshi put paid to his hopes of reclaiming the title. It was all the more surprising as Delgado fought so well to win a bronze medal at the Olympics last year.
Yandzi's run was short-lived though as Lacha Pipia destroyed him in the next round. Yandzi went for some big techniques, but Pipia scored with his including Waza-ari and Yuko with Seoi-nage and then a huge pick-up to score Ippon with Kata-guruma. Pipia then went on a fine run, ousting Mehman Azizov of Azebaijan by Hansoku-make and then Irakli Uznadze of Turkey by a golden score to reach the final.
The other finalist was an inspired Alexsei Budolin of Estonia who made short work of all his opponents. Budolin threw Luke Preston of Britain for Ippon in just 35 seconds with his speciality rolling counter technique against an Uchi-mata attack. Budolin seems to slide off the attacking leg and unbalance his opponents before turning them onto their backs as they fall. Boris Novotny of Slovakia was next to fall, before Harut Gharibyan of Armenia who had been having an excellent tournament. Budolin lifted him shoulder high before smashing into the mat for Ippon with Kata-guruma.
Budolin then faced the Uchi-mata specialist, Valentin Knobloch of Germany, and there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. Knobloch attacked with Uchi-mata and Budolin unbalanced him before turning him over for Ippon.
The final was a short affair as Budolin looked for a Te-guruma pick-up from the beginning. Pipia, in his first European final, looked out of his depth and lasted just 42 seconds before Budolin found the grip he was looking for. From the outcome was in no doubt as the Russian was slammed into the mat for Ippon as the Estonian added European gold to his Olympic bronze last year.
Yanzi was thrown for Ippon by Oscar Fernandez of Spain in the repechage final after two hugely entertaining victories. Fernandez went on to face Knobloch for bronze and finished him with the same technique that disposed of Yandzi, a high Kata-guruma pick-up. Uznadze recovered from his set back to claim his second European bronze medal. The Turk scored Ippon against Bronislaw Wolkowicz of Poland who came all the way through the repechage after losing to Knobloch in the first round.
Women's under 57kg
Isabel Fernandez was the clear favourite in this category, having won Olympic gold last year in Sydney. The Spaniard had a disappointing European Championship last year, losing a decision to Marisabelle Lomba of Belgium, but she gained her revenge this year after first squeezing past Britain's Jenny Brien on penalties. Fernandez led by Yuko until deep into the last minute, when she scored Waza-ari with Te-guruma to clinch a semi-final berth. There her tactical, stifling style put paid to Cinzia Cavazutti of Italy, although Fernandez managed only a couple of Koka scores.
The side of the draw had the promising reigning champion from France, Barbara Harel. The young fighter beat Kifaya Gasimova of Azebaijan with Ippon from her favourite left Uchi-mata, but managed only a Yuko in beating Lena Goeldi of Switzerland in the quarter-final. That put her up against Deborah Gravenstijn of the Netherlands who has only stepped back up to under 57kg this season. Gravenstijn threw Dragan Zivkovic of Yugoslavia for Ippon before beating Michaela Vernerova of Czech Republic to face Harel in the semi-final.
In front of a noisy home crowd, the reigning champion scored Yuko with Ko-soto-gari, although the crowd voice its disapproval at such a low score. And they were even more outraged when and almost identical technique from Gravenstijn scored Ippon just 30 seconds later. The crowd howled with derision, but the result stood and the Dutch woman was in her first European final.
Fernandez was always the favourite and she silenced critics of her scrappy style by winning with a fine technique. With the scores tied at a Koka apiece, Ferandez sent Gravenstijn sprawling with a left-sided Maki-komi for Ippon. It was the Olympic champion's third European title and demonstrates that she will once again be tough to beat at the World championships later this year.
Harel didn't disppoint her fans in the bronze fight as she faced a strangely out-of-sorts Pernilla Andersson, in a repeat of last year's final. That was even being generous to Andersson who did little more than lie down after she stepped onto the mat. Harel scored Waza-ari with another left Uchi-mata and then added Ippon with a leg-grab, although Andersson barely looked interested she flopped lazily onto her back, without having mounted a single attack herself. The other beaten semi-finalist, Cavazutti, also bounced back and beat Vernerova with a Yuko to win the second bronze medal.
Men's under 73kg
This was the fourth out of five categories to feature a reigning Olympic champion, but by the end of the day, he had made quite a few enemies in qualifying for the final. Guiseppe Maddaloni of Italy did nothing wrong in beating Borce Toseski of Macedonia and then throwing Dennis Meyer of the Netherlands for Ippon with a brilliant Ippon-seoi-nage counter to an O-soto-gari attack. He was also still a popular figure after throwing Nicolai Belocosov of Moldova for Ippon with Kata-guruma in the quarter-final. But that was all before he faced Daniel Fernandes of France in the semi-final.
The Frenchman was in great form, throwing Eric Bonti of Britain for Ippon with drop Seoi-nage in just 30 seconds in the first round. He then dispatched Miklos Illyes of Hungary with two Waza-ari scores and then threw the Georgian, Giorgi Revazichvili, for Ippon with a slick Ko-ouchi-gari. That was enough tp get the home fans dreaming of a gold medal and he came so close. In a ding-dong battle both fighters picked up two penalties and scored a Yuko, but Maddaloni won it with a Koka score, despite the best efforts of the crowd to influence the referee in giving the Italian more penalties. The tension was incredibly throughout and the noise was deafening, but Fernandes just could not quite overcome the Olympic champion.
After the fight Maddaloni responded to a chorus of boos, that were aimed more at officialdom than himself, by waving to the crowd, who then turned their dissaproval on him. He then had to run a torment of hate as he stepped off the mat and coolly made his way back to the sanctuary of the dressing-room.
On the other side of the draw, Gennadi Bilodid of Ukraine was making quite progress after David Zamora retired from his first round contest. Bilodid reached the quarter-final by virtue of a disqualification and then threw Krzystoph Wilkomirski of Poland for Ippon with Kata-guruma. In the semi-final he was on fire and scored a quick Yuko with Yoko-sutemi-waza against Russia's Evgenni Karpoukhine. He scored Waza-ari with the same technique and then booked a final berth with another Waza-ari, this time from Kata-guruma.
In the final, Bilodid must have felt like half of the Ukraine had made it across Europe to the Palais Omnisport in Bercy. The crowd was so anti-Maddaloni that Bilodid might as well have been French, such was their support for him. A cocky Maddoloni strode onto the mat with the air of a man who felt he was about to ram all their taunts back down the crowd's combined throat. But he hadn't reckoned with an inspired Bilodid. Maddaloni picked up a penalty for dropping, much to the delight of the crowd, but then Bilodid gave them what they really wanted. The Ukrainian spun underneath the Italian and flipped him over onto his back with Sumi-gaeshi for the most popular Ippon of the day. Bilodid celebrated with his new fans, while Maddaloni cut a dejected and lone figure and he peeled himself off the mat.
Fernandes was possibly fighting for a place in the French World championship team and knew he needed a medal. Afterbeing caught for a Koka with Ashi-waza by Wilkomirski, he stormed back to dominate the bout. He scored Yuko with a spinning Harai-goshi and then again with a spinning Uchi-mata. As his confidence grew there was only going to be one winner and the Frenchman finished it off with a Kata-guruma for Ippon. The other bronze medal went to Belocosov who threw Karpoukhine for Ippon with Uchi-mata, after dominating the fight with some minor scores to begin with.