A quartet of Olympic champions feature among a star-studded field at the latest International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Prix which is set to get under way in the Hungarian capital Budapest tomorrow.
Cuba’s Idalys Ortiz is joined by Russia’s Arsen Galstyan and Tagir Khaibulaev and the United States’ Kayla Harrison at the two-day event with the World Championships in Astana in August looming large.
The official draw took place at the Papp László Sportaréna as representatives of all 67 delegations and 411 judoka assembled to find out who their charges will be pitted against.
Ortiz, a world champion as well as an Olympic gold medallist, should be a clear favourite to rule the heavyweight women’s category on Sunday (June 14) despite the fact that the Cuban fighter tends to under perform on the World Judo Tour with a specific focus on the Olympic Games.
World Judo Masters bronze medallist, Franziska Konitz of Germany, and African champion Nihel Cheikh Rouhou of Tunisia, along with Baku Grand Slam bronze medallist, Jasmin Kuelbs of Germany, complete the line-up of the top four seeds.
“This is an important event for me and I’m looking forward to it,” said Ortiz.
“The team has been in Europe recently where we’ve trained at the national centre in France.”
Meanwhile, in the women’s under 78 kilogram category, Harrison is without doubt the most consistent fighter.
She last failed to win a medal at an IJF event in 2012, featuring on the medal podium ever since and taking a gold medal at last month’s World Masters.
World bronze medallist, Anamari Velensek of Slovenia, and World Masters bronze medallist Luise Malzahn of Germany as well as Natalie Powell of Great Britain, who took a career-best silver at the Masters, could all shine on day two of the event.
“I'm feeling good,” said Harrison.
“I hope to continue to show dominance in the division and gain valuable Olympic points with the ultimate goal always being Rio 2016.”
Galstyan and Khaibulaev will compete in the men’s under 60kg and under 100kg classes respectively with both facing stiff competition.
World Judo Masters bronze medallist Sharafuddin Lutfillaev of Uzbekistan is the top seed in the lightest men’s category.
The 24-year-old has five medals from five events in 2015, including an Asian Championships bronze medal, which has seen him surge up the rankings.
Astana Grand Prix winner Yeldos Smetov of Kazakhstan and Baku Grand Slam bronze medallist Tobias Englmaier of Germany are the second and third seeds respectively with Dusseldorf Grand Prix winner Shishime Toru of Japan seeded fourth.
Meanwhile, Olympic bronze medallist Dimitri Peters, who won the Zagreb Grand Prix last month, will undoubtedly be involved in determining the fate of the under 100kg category on Sunday (June 14).
The German star can expect a strong challenge from athletes such as Baku Grand Slam winner Adlan Bisultanov of Russia and Cuban world silver medallist Jose Armenteros, who is still only 22.
Budapest is the location of the IJF Presidential office and will host the 2017 World Championships.
“It is important to state that judo has experienced great development and while we are proud of our place as an Olympic sport - and Olympic qualification points will be on offer this weekend - we are a strong sport and all of our events are prestigious in their own right,” said IJF President Marius Vizer, who resigned as the head of SportAccord last month.
Tomorrow's action comprises the women’s 48kg, under 52kg, under 57kg and under 63kg categories, and the men’s 60kg, under 66kg and under 73kg classes.
Watch the latest action on Judo TV here.
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