Some 247 of the world's greatest judoka from 41 nations, including Georgian Olympic champion Lasha Shavdatuashvili, are arriving in Azerbaijan for the second edition of the Baku Grand Slam, which is due to get underway in the Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Centre tomorrow.
The draw for the event in the Azerbaijani capital, which will host the inaugural European Games in 2015, took place today at the Park Inn Hotel as Asif Asgarov, the Azerbaijan Judo Federation vice-president, welcomed the athletes to the city.
"Dear guests, I welcome you to the land of Azerbaijan, we are privileged to host this event in Baku," he said.
"We have made great progress in the sporting landscape in this country and have hosted many international competitions.
"The first European Games will be held here next year and we're confident we can show a high level of organisation this weekend.
"I hope you all leave our country with good impressions and I wish good luck to everyone."
A number of Olympic and World Championships stars will compete in the Grand Slam, including London 2012 under 66 kilogramme gold medallist Shavdatuashvili, who has now jumped up to the under 73kg class, and will face Mongolian top seed Khashbaatar Tsagaanbaatar, former Pan American champion Nick Delpopolo of the United States and Russia's Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist Denis Iartcev.
Mongolian world champion Mönkhbatyn Urantsetseg will compete in the women's under 48kg event alongside Turkey's Sümeyye Akkus, while European champion Kim Polling of the Netherlands will take on British Samsun Grand Prix silver medallist Sally Conway in the under 70kg competition.
Competing on home turf, under 100kg world champion Elkhan Mammadov will be looking to successfully defending his 2013 title at the tournament but will have to ward off the challenge of Iran's Javad Mahjoub, who has won back-to-back Grand Prix bronze medals in Tbilisi and Samsun and arrives in Baku as one of the leading threats.
Mammadov will, however, also have to face compatriot and European silver medallist Elmar Gasimov, Mongolia's Beijing 2008 Olympic champion Naidangiin Tüvshinbayar and former world champion Maxim Rakov of Kazakhstan on his way to the podium.
Meanwhile, the men's over 100kg competition will close the Baku Grand Slam on Sunday (May 11), with Tunisia's African champion and world bronze medallist Faicel Jaballah taking on World Judo Masters bronze medallist Renat Saidov of Russia, Tbilisi Grand Prix silver medallist and junior world champion Anton Krivobokov also of Russia and Uzbekistan's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix bronze medallist Boltoboy Baltaev.
Competition gets underway tomorrow with the Opening ceremony, as well as the women's under 48kg, under 52kg and under 57kg events and the men's under 60kg and under 66kg contests.
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