Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
The Azerbaijani judo team, which failed to win top medals at the world championship in Uzbekistan, proved its strength before the fans in Baku. Baku hosted the prestigious Grand Slam judo tournament again. More than 400 athletes from 61 countries competed for medals in the competition held on November 4-6, 2022.
The first day of the tournament held at the Heydar Aliyev Sports Arena was memorable with three medals. Local judokas won 1 gold and 2 bronze medals.
Balabey Aghayev (60 kg, Azerbaijan) defeated Dilshod Khalmatov (Ukraine) in the final bout and climbed to the top step of the podium. Another Azerbaijani judoka Karamat Huseynov (60 kg) won a bronze medal defeating Francisco Garigos (Spain) in the bout for the third-place. Orkhan Safarov (66 kg) has a bronze medal after defeating Strahinja Bucic from Serbia.
The national team received two more gold medals on the second day of the competition. Hidayat Heydarov (73 kg) won a gold medal for the fourth time at the Grand Slam, beating Canadian Arthur Margelidon in the finals. Saeed Mollai (81 kg) became a champion after defeating his Belgian rival Matthias Cassay in the finals.
On the last, third day of the tournament, heavyweight Zelim Kotsoyev brought the fourth gold medal for Azerbaijan.
Thus, Azerbaijani judokas won 4 gold and 2 bronze medals, taking first place among 61 countries in the team event. The Netherlands and Serbia shared the second and third places respectively. In total, representatives of 27 countries won medals in the tournament.
Child-friendly form of judo
For the first time the Grand Slam tournament presented a new project of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and Azerbaijan Judo Federation called 'Judo for Children'. A duel between eight-year-old Azerbaijani yellow belt holder Muhammad Shahverdili and world champion and Olympic medallist Sayed Mollai was organised. The fans welcomed the bout showing great interest. At the beginning of the bout, Mollai found himself on the tatami and received an early shido. And after a powerful o-goshi throw, Muhammed defeated Mollai with an Ippon.
Six medals of the Azerbaijani judo team at the prestigious tournament is a great event for the local fans of this sport. It’s worth mentioning that judokas have improved their performance considerably since the appointment of the new German coach. Thanks to the speed of young Balabey Aghayev, experience of Hidayat Heydarov and Sayed Mollai and character of Zelim Kotsayev, the national anthem of Azerbaijan sounded at the tournament more than once. Undoubtedly, the success at the Grand Slam is the result of athletes' hard training.
Conclusions as key to success
Grand Slam gold medallist Hidayat Haydarov shared his impressions with Region Plus: "This is my fourth gold medal in my career at the Grand Slam tournament. I am very happy. I never think about losing in Baku. We always want to be the first here. The final bout was tough. But I could do the trick I wanted to do. This victory will help me to finish the year 2022 in a good mood".
World champion Sayed Mollai, who brought the second gold medal to Azerbaijan, said that his main goal now is the Summer Olympics in Paris: "Long live Azerbaijan! These days the country celebrates the Victory Day and National Flag Day, and I had to win as an athlete. I could not perform in the world championship (in Uzbekistan) the way I wanted to. But by learning from my mistakes, I can achieve what I want. The main goal is to win the world championships next year and the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024. I want to win gold in all these competitions.”
Despite the high result achieved in Baku, the national team must not become complacent. The number of licence competitions for the Olympic Games in Paris will increase in 2023, and it is very important to perform confidently at these competitions. Traditionally strong teams from Russia (due to the IFD ban), fined Iran and ambitious Japan did not attend the Baku tournament for various reasons. Moreover, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Brazil came to Baku with relatively young judokas, giving the main squad a rest. Undoubtedly, these factors influenced the results of the tournament. The Azerbaijani national team must continue to work on its mistakes and strive for success also at the World Masters to be held in Tokyo at the end of the year.
The Grand Slam was followed by the World Parajudo Championship in Baku. The prestigious tournament was held under new rules, with visually impaired and totally blind judoka competing in separate categories.
Ilham Zakiyev, the leader of Azerbaijan's national parajudo team, finished the championship with a silver medal. After losing in the final to his Brazilian opponent, he took the second place.
Khanym Huseynova (70 kg) won the bronze medal the tournament. She defeated Karusa Ogawa (Japan) in the third-place bout. Namig Abbasly (73 kg) and Shahana Hajiyeva (48 kg) also won bronze medals.
As a result, the national parajudo team finished the individual competition with 1 silver and 3 bronze medals.
In the team competition, local parajudokas defeated their Turkish rivals 4-2 in the final and climbed to the top step of the podium.