June 14 - The inaugural International Judo Federation (IJF) Miami Grand Prix is set to get underway this weekend as the "Sunshine State" prepares to welcome nearly 300 judoka from 37 nations at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa.
Team leaders gathered today as the draw was made by IJF and USA Judo officials, although IJF and SportAccord President Marius Vizer will not arrive until Sunday (June 16) as he visits the SportAccord head office in Lausanne for the first time since his election in St Petersburg last month.
"Mr Marius L Vizer sends his best regards and wishes you all well with the event," IJF director of the Presidential office Vlad Marinescu said.
"We want to congratulate USA Judo on their efforts and support so far for their first Grand Prix and we look forward to establishing this event as one of the finest in this hemisphere.
"I also have the pleasure to bring you some very positive news for our sport.
"Our President Mr Marius L Vizer was elected as SportAccord President in St Petersburg.
"Secondly, judo has been promoted into the category C of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) grouping system as a result of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the work of all the national judo federations, the athletes and everyone supporting the sport.
"I wish you all good luck and a pleasant stay in Miami."
Judo was promoted to a Category C sport last month at the SportAccord Convention by the IOC's ruling Executive Board, putting it on equal par with sports such as badminton, boxing, table tennis and weightlifting.
The United States took a gold and a bronze medal in the sport at London 2012, and USA Judo President Lance Nading hopes the nation will revel in hosting the event and provide a top-class experience for athletes and fans.
"On behalf of USA Judo board of directors I welcome you all to the United States of America," he said.
"As you know we had some success at London 2012 and I've told my constituent groups the importance of hosting great international judo events.
"This is a very clear mission for us as great judo nations who consistently produce results host great events.
"You can't have one without the other.
"This is our first opportunity to hold such a high level event.
"We're really looking forward to hosting the highest level of athletes, referees and coaches.
"We're going to work hard and we're committed to providing the best experience possible.
"Having come off London 2012 with the world as it is today, with some of our countries having political differences, we have judo as a binding force.
"Judo penetrates borders and not just sport.
"Judo is particularly great because of the rich traditional core values which make us brothers in arms."
The world's top judokas will participate in the event this weekend, which kicks off with the preliminary rounds tomorrow morning.
Competing in the event will be the likes of British European bronze medallist Ashley McKenzie, who will take his place as the top seed in the men's -60kg category, and American visually-impaired Paralympic silver medallist Myles Porter, who will compete in the men's -100kg category after defeating full-sighted judoka to achieve fifth-place finishes at Pan American Open events in Uruguay and Argentina.
In the women's draw, reigning Olympic champion Idalys Ortiz of Cuba is sure to be a force to be reckoned with in the women's +78kg category, and the 20-year-old French starlet Clarisse Agbegnenou, who is undefeated so far this year following gold medals at the Paris Grand Slam, Dusseldorf Grand Prix and European Championships in the women's -63kg category.
IJF Referee Commissioner Bernd Achilles also provided an update on the impact of the new rules, which which were first introduced on the World Judo Tour at the Paris Grand Slam in February.
"Since the new rules were introduced there have been 5,906 fights all over the world and we have some statistics which show that they have been very successful," he said.
"Approximately 80 per cent of contests are concluded with a technical score which is a really good result.
"We have 10.5 per cent of fights ending with a shido and 6.7 per cent ending as a result of four shido penalties and this number is decreasing.
"Only 2.2 per cent of fights have produced a leg grab resulting in hansoku-make.
"There were too many contests going into golden score at the London 2012 Olympic Games and this figure has fallen dramatically with only 1.88 per cent of contests going into the extra period."
To follow the event through a live stream, click here.
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