The final International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Prix before next month's World Championships is due to begin in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar tomorrow as a host of Olympic champions and rising names compete at the Buyant Ukhaa Sport Complex.
The sixth Grand Prix of the year, due to conclude on Sunday (July 5), comes at an intense time on the World Judo Tour with continental showpieces such as the first European Games in Baku and the Pan American Games in Toronto taking place either side of it.
The World Championships in Astana are due to take place from August 24 until 30.
The home team can call on the likes of Athens 2004 Olympic bronze medallist and former world champion Tsagaanbaatar Khashbaatar, who took time out from his busy schedule today to speak to his legions of fans around the world in a special question and answer session on the IJF Twitter page.
“I would like to thank the IJF for this opportunity,” said Khashbaatar.
“I have had a lot of pleasure from talking to judoka and fans all over the world and sharing our passion for judo.
“I have never done anything like this before so it is an honour for me and I am grateful for receiving questions from the judo family who are all very special to me.
“I encourage everyone to watch the Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix this weekend and continue to support judo all over the world.”
The Mongolian hero will be competing in the under 73 kilogram category alongside Russia’s trio of London 2012 Olympic champions - Arsen Galstyan, Mansur Isaev and Tagir Khaibulaev - who are all seeking qualification points so they can defend their titles in Rio de Janeiro next year.
World silver medallist Kuk Hyon Hong of North Korea is the top seed in the category, which also includes Nyam-Ochir Sainjargal, another Olympic bronze medallist from Mongolia.
Meanwhile, Ghana’s Emmanuel Nartey is one judoka hoping to break through the roll call of Olympic and world medallists on Saturday (July 4).
“Training has been going well, I have had to make a few changes with my fighting style and push my attacking rate up,” he said.
“So far everything is successful and I will be trying this new philosophy in Mongolia.”
Olympic champion Kaori Matsumoto leads a 12-strong Japanese team in action with a wealth of class in all 14 weight categories.
Matsumoto, fighting in the women’s under 57kg category, will be out to stop Mongolia’s Sumiya Dorjsuren, the two-time World Judo Masters winner who triumphed at the first edition of her home Grand Prix in 2013.
Also looking to stand in the way of the world number three is Austria’s Sabrina Filzmoser, the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam bronze medallist, and Serbia's Jovana Rogic, a five-time Grand Prix bronze medallist
“I’m really thankful to IJF because they have supported our team for this tournament and I thank IJF President Marius Vizer,” said Rogic.
“This is first time for me to come to Mongolia so I’m excited and curious about everything from the culture to the crowd in the competition.
“It will be my pleasure to compete at this Grand Prix and I will give my best to show you good judo.”
The official draw took place at the competition venue this afternoon as representatives of all 35 delegations assembled to find out who the 202 entrants will be matched against.
The first day of action features the women’s under 48kg, under 52kg and under 57kg categories and the men’s under 60kg and under 66kg classes.
Watch the latest action on Judo TV here.
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