This weekend brings us another of the major events in this year's Judo circuit, the Grand Prix in Budapest, Hungary. Since we are now in the full swing of Olympic qualification season, the points at these things matter because they get athletes ranking places towards that 2016 berth. If they manage to get ranked highly enough, it also gets them seeding at major tournaments and a chance to avoid their higher ranked rivals until later in the competition. This increases their chances of medalling and means they aren't getting tired out by hard fights earlier on, so these points matter. Because of this, every one of these competitions will have a handful of big guns who deserve to be seen at work. The people to pay attention to are:
The big man in the u60kg weight class (pun intended) is 2014 World Champ and 2014 All-Japan champ Naohisa Takato. The 21 year old owns this division and is something special to watch , even by the standards of Japanese lightweight men. He blends together Japanese technical mastery with the kind of rugged physicality you usually see from European fighters or the Mongolians To give you a taste of what he can do, here is a video of his 2014 All-Japan win (in the red belt). Also worth paying attention to at that weight, 2010 European champ and London Olympian Sofiane Milous, 2013 European champ and multiple European medalist Amiran Papinashvili of Georgia and world silver champ Amartuvshin Dashdavaa of Georgia. I'd also keep an eye on Brit Ashley McKenzie. He won in cuba and looks like he might be finally coming into form.
at u66kg, one name is more interesting than any of the others, European and World champ Georgii Zantaraia of the Ukraine. He is always worth keeping an eye on, he does exciting stuff on a regular basis. Outside of him, I'm curious to see what Kengo Takaichi, the Japanese entry at this weight, can pull off. He won the 2014 All Japan Championships and is unbeaten so far this year.
At u73kg, my favourite would have to be Khashbaatar Tsagaanbaatar of mongolia. He has a mountain of medals to his name including a 2004 Olympic bronze. a 2009 World gold and a raft of Asian medals. Interestingly enough, he also has a silver (should have been gold IMO) from the 2013 world Sambo championships. Also watch out for London gold medalist and 2013 European champ Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia.
At +100kg, the last man to beat Teddy Riner, 2010 WOrld champ and 2014 All Japan Championship winner Daiki Kamikawa will be back in action. Granted, his win was contentious and Riner made him look bad in the rematch, but he is still a very, very skilled heavyweight who can beat anyone else. And Riner isn't there. I'm hoping for a bit of intrigue again from the dark horse of the Havana world cup, Chris Sherrington of the UK as well. It would make life fun.
At u48kg, Japan is letting 19 year old 2011 World cadet champ and 2014 All Japan champ get some experience. I'm very curious to see what we'll get from her. This is a weight Japan has owned pretty much forever, so she has a lot to live up to. At u52kg, Priscilla Gneto of France continues her comeback to world Judo. Unfortunately for the London Bronze medalist, she is again in the same pool as London Olympian and 2013 world champ Majinda Kelmendi of Kosovo. Gneto lost to her in Cuba, so it will be interesting to see who gets the rematch.
At u57kg, the Assassin returns(well, apparently she prefers ‘the beast'). Kaori Matsumoto of Japan, the reigning olympic champ and 2010 world champ is back on the mat and I personally couldn't be happier. I talked a lot about her during my olympic previews because she is probably the most exciting woman at her weight and is an absolute monster both standing and on the mat. I'll enjoy having her back.
At u63kg, multiple time European and World champ Anicka Van Emden of the Netherlands will be on the mat. I still think the dutch should have picked her to go to London, but no point arguing over it. At u70kg, I'll personally be watching 2 time world champ and London bronze medalist Yuri Alvear of Columbia. Columbia isn't known as a Judo nation, but in her they have a legitimate talent. At u78kg, one of the stories of London in Gemma Gibbons of the UK shall be back in action. She seemed like a breakout star at the olympics, but then injuries have kept her mostly sidelined since so I'm curious to see what kind of form she will have
At heavyweight, I expect Megumi Tachimoto of Japan to win it, but I'll be curious about Nina Cutro-Kelly of the USA's performance. She has been a mainstay in American heavyweight women's judo for a few years now and also has a world bronze and a couple of world cup wins in Sambo. I'm curious to see how well she does.
The finals start in about 8 hours, but until then enjoy the bracket matches right here.
The schedule of competition is as follows
Saturday 21st June
Women: -48kg, -52kg, -57kg, -63kg
Men: -60kg, -66kg, -73kg
Sunday 8th June
Women : -70kg, -78kg, +78kg
Men : -81kg, -90kg, -100kg, +100kg