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Ilias Iliadis among the guests in Abu Dhabi
27 Oct 2016 16:05
The IJF World Judo Tour has stopped in Croatia (Zagreb Grand Prix) and Uzbekistan (Tashkent Grand Prix) following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and has now arrived in Abu Dhabi for the penultimate Grand Slam of the year. Grand Slams have been held in Paris (France), Baku (Azerbaijan) and Tyumen (Russia) already this year with the season set to finish in December with the fifth and final Grand Slam in Tokyo (Japan). Triple World Champion and 2004 Olympic Champion Ilias Iliadis watched the draw this time from another point of view and saw some good matches to look out for.
Havana Grand Prix winner Eric Takabatake (BRA) will be looking to lead from the front when he steps onto the tatami on #WorldJudoDay as the top seed in the -60kg category. The Brazilian will aim to finish ahead of recent standouts such as Tashkent Grand Prix silver medallist Matjaz Trbovc (SLO) and Tyumen Grand Slam silver medallist Albert Oguzov (RUS).
Zagreb Grand Prix winner Andraz Jereb (SLO) will have Olympic and world medallists to deal with in the -66kg category as one of the strongest fields in the competition. Jereb, 24, who took bronze at the Tashkent Grand Prix earlier this month, is the top seed ahead of former world silver medallist Azamat Mukanov (KAZ), London 2012 Olympic champion Arsen Galstyan (RUS) and Pan American Championships winner Charles Chibana (BRA) – who lost to eventual Olympic bronze medallist Ebinuma Masashi (JPN) in Rio.
Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Rustam Orujov (AZE) graces the IJF World Judo Tour as an Olympic medallist for the first time in Abu Dhabi and will start as a heavy favourite. Orujov has Tyumen Grand Slam winner Musa Mogushkov (RUS) alongside him at -73kg while Zagreb Grand Prix silver medallist Tommy Macias (SWE) will aim to win a first Grand Slam medal. Former world bronze medallist Victor Scvortov (U.A.E) is one of the hosts’ leading judoka and will be in medal contention.
U.A.E hero Sergiu Toma (U.A.E) won his country’s second Olympic medal in their history when he won bronze at Rio 2016. Toma will receive a rapturous ovation and will be fancied to win gold in front of his home fans. World bronze medallist Victor Penalber (BRA) fell short at the Olympics and will need to be motivated and in good condition to medal in Abu Dhabi. Former Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Frank De Wit (NED) is still only 20 years old and will be a fighter to look out for in this new Olympic cycle.
Baku Grand Slam silver medallist Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB) is the top seed on the Grand Slam stage for the first time in his career and the world number 14 will expect to produce a similar result in the Emirates. Kukolj, 25, was fifth at the European Championships this year and is Serbia’s top men’s medal hope in Abu Dhabi. Almaty Grand Prix winner Axel Clerget (FRA) mounted a late bid for Rio 2016 selection with a run of top displays on the IJF World Judo Tour but graciously backed teammate Alexander Iddir (FRA) who was impactful for the full course of the last Olympic cycle and earned the pick for France. Clerget competes for the first time since a fifth-place at the World Judo Masters and will be in action along with Glasgow European Open winner Max Stewart (GBR).
Former world champion Elkhan Mammadov (AZE) was one of the most vocal Azerbaijan supporters in the stands in Rio as he watched -100kg compatriot Elmar Gasimov (AZE) take silver. The Azeri veteran could be signing off from the Grand Slam stage at 34 years old but will still pack the power to trouble the likes of Rio 2016 Olympian Rafael Buzacarini (BRA) and former world champion Luciano Correa (BRA).
World Judo Masters winner Daniel Natea (ROU) won the Zagreb Grand Prix in September in his comeback following an early exit in Rio. World number four Natea, 24, is far from being the finished product and needs consistent and clinical wins to build himself up as a potential threat to double Olympic champion Teddy Riner (FRA). David Moura (BRA) had to watch from the stands in Rio as heavyweight colleague Rafael Silva (BRA) represented the hosts in the heavyweight category and won his second Olympic bronze medal. Moura has added muscle mass and trained all summer as he awaited the start of the new Olympic cycle and will be looking to stand toe-to-toe with judoka such as former Tyumen Grand Slam bronze medallist Soslan Bostanov (RUS) before an expected showdown with Natea in the latter stages on Sunday.
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Ahmed Yousef ElKawisah (LBA)
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