Russia lead in the gold-medal stakes after day one at the European Sambo Championships ©FIAS

Russia claimed three gold medals on the opening day of the European Sambo Championship here in the Croatian capital.

Mariia Kozlova started the gold trail in the women's 48 kilogram category, beating Ukraine's Alina Sokolovska in the final, before Aleksandr Nesterov doubled the Russian's tally with success in the combat men's 57kg at the expense of runner-up, Armenia's Ernest Hayrapetyan.

Reigning world champion Arsen Khandzhian then brought up the third gold of the evening with a convincing win against Belarus' Andrei Kazusionak in the men's 90kg, using a rare series of sweeps and a reverse throw across the back.

"My technique is the merit of George Grigoryan, my personal and only coach, who since my childhood made me work on the sweeps," he said.

"I am pleased that the fight turned out well.

"In the Russian Championship [in March] I was second and lost to Alsim Chernoskulov - this is why I’m here and this is the main start of the year for me."

There could have been two further titles for Russia but defeats for Igor Beglerov, at the hands of Armenia's Tigran Kirakosyan in the men's 52kg, and Andrei Kalinin, against Bulgaria's Tihomir Blagovestov in the combat men's 74kg, saw two slip through their grasp.

Kalinin's encounter with Blagovestov was a strong contender for best contest of the evening, as the Bulgarian overturned a 7-1 deficit to win 11-7, courtesy of a remarkable late rally.

Behind the Russians in the gold-medal stakes were Belarus and Ukraine, picking up two each.

Belarus' Katsiaryna Prakapenka, contesting the women's 60kg, and Dzmitry Smolin, fighting in the men's 68kg, both won their finals 1-0 against Ukraine's Anastasiya Shevchenko and Georgia's Beka Tugushi respectively.

As for Ukraine, Nataliya Smal cruised to victory against Georgia's Nino Odzelashvili in the women's 72kg, while Anatolii Voloshynov was equally dominant in the combat men's 100kg, beating Hungary's Jozsef Vesztergom.

Aleksandr Nesterov stands at the top of the podium after winning the combat men's 57kg category
Aleksandr Nesterov stands at the top of the podium after winning the combat men's 57kg category ©FIAS

The home crowd had something to shout about in the combat men's 100kg as Marko Toric took one of the two bronze medals along with Russia's Viktor Nemkov.

Anastasiia Shinkarenko of Russia shared the third step of the podium with Georgia's Shorena Sharadze in the women's 60kg, while compatriot Irina Mironova did likewise with Bulgaria's Tamara Pantaleeva in the women's 72kg.

Georgia equalled Russia's bronze medal tally of three as Givi Nadareishvili and Davit Karbelashvili joined Belarus' Dzhambulat Akhmadov and France's Valentin Jourdan in third spot in the respective men's 52kg and men's 90kg. 

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's Emil Hasanov and Farid Yusifov claimed bronze medals in the men's 68kg and combat men's 57kg respectively, joining Italy's Mattia Galbiati and Ukraine's Bohdan Babenko.

Ukraine also won a bronze medal through Vadym Burchak in the combat men's 74kg, along with Armenia's Mavrik Nasibyan, while Romania's Roxana Simona Halus and Belarus' Leila Abbasava shared the spoils in the women's 48kg.

A short Opening Ceremony preceded tonight's action as the flags of all the competing nations were displayed in formation around the venue.

Among those in attendance was the President of the European Sambo Federation Sergey Eliseev, who thanked his Croatian Sambo Federation counterpart Zeljko Banic and the organisers of the event for their efforts. 

The action in Zagreb is due continue tomorrow with women's 52kg, 64kg and 80kg categories, as well as the men's 57kg, 74kg and 100kg, and combat men's 62kg, 82kg and over 100kg.

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