Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this year's Tournoi de Paris 2001 kicked off in style. As well as the spectacular judo and the electric atmosphere from the partisan crowd that packed the Parc de Bercy stadium, the French did something rather special this year. Just before the medal ceremony, the stadium lights dimmed and the crowd were treated to a parade of champions, with all the French winners of the Tornois de Paris being brought onto the tatami.
With David Douillet on the microphone introducing each great past champion, it was like stepping back through the judo history books legendary names like Jean Luc Rouge, Michel Nowak and Angelo Parisi (to name but a few) stepped onto the mat to take the applause and a live screen played back the winning moments.
The French certainly know how to put on a good show. As French Federation Director, Jean Luc Rouge put it: "We aim for this tournament to be a like a mini-worlds and that the competitors have the best possible conditions to compete in." And this effort was reflected by some fantastic judo in the lighter weight divisions on Saturday February 10 - the first day of action.
Kazuhiko Tokuno (JPN) looked from the start that he was on track for the gold and he didn't disappoint. His judo sparkled from his first ippon against Stegmuller (AUT) as he used his lightning fast tomoenage and didn't pale as he strode past Rasulov (UZB) and then Despezelle (FRA). Even the stylish Belgian Cedric Taymans could not contain the compact fighter who slipped under the Belgian's grips to score yuko with ippon-seionage and then three minutes later took his place in the final with another resounding ippon-seoinage, this time scoring ippon.
French man Cyril Soyer emerged from the top half of the draw as wins against Boonen (BEL), Ridnyl (RUS), Ahmidi (MOR) and then his team mate, Yacine Doumar earnt him a chance for the gold medal, a chance to take part in any future 'champion parades,' the French may hold.
But, Tokuno was just too good. Fast from his low lapel grip Tokuno unsettled Soya until he finally clocked in his ippon seoinage - the spectacular technique earning the applause of even the most partisan of the French supporters as he whipped Soya onto his back.
Bronzes went to Roberto Cuerto who edged Taymans out on a split decision and Doumar who beat Chambilly.
Favourite for the title was the Olympic Silver Medallist, Larbi Benboudaoud lived dangerously through the early rounds. Very nearly thrown for ippon in his first match by Ismailov, Benboudaoud managed to make it to the semi-final slipping past Yukimasa Nakamura on the closest of decisions before Islam Matsiev (RUS) stopped him. Ironically, it was the fight in which Benboudaoud looked to be the most secure. His style - always offensive, looking for the big throw - is what makes him good to watch, it's what has brought him his big wins too like the world gold in 1999 - but at the same time is what often costs him fights. Matsiev saw his opportunity and in the last 17 seconds of the semifinal, several scores down, threw Benboudaoud for waza-ari.
Matsiev went on to beat France's Benjam Darbelet in the final throwing for waza -ari with his typical kata-guruma before Darbelet received keikoku for passivity.
Bronzes went to the Portugese, Joao Pina as the referees penalised both fighters to keikoku then tipped the balance, disqualifying Yukimasa Nakamura as his big toe scraped outside the area. While Benboudaoud should be somewhat consoled by winning the other bronze.
As three French men made the semi-finals, a home victory began to look on the cards at the weight division. And in the end it came with Daniel Fernandes beating Yong Shin Choi in a nail biting final.
With 15 seconds left in the tight match and both men on a shido, the referees awarded Fernandes a chui. But Fernandes kept pushing and as the bell sounded the referees gave Choi a chui and then all three awarded the Frenchman the decision.
Bronzes went to Shturbabin (UZB) as Christian Gagliono pulled out of the bronze medal match injured and to Christophe Masina who beat double Tornois de Paris gold medallist, Ferrid Kheder in a cagey battle determined by penalities.
This weight division came alight as big names clashed from the off. In the first round, Kenzo Nakamura (1996 Olympic Champion) met and beat the current world champion, Graeme Randall. Notably the champions overflowed even from the fighting area with the two coaches of the Nakamura-Randall match being the 1991 World Champion Hirotaka Okada and 1996 Olympic Champion Udo Quellmalz.
Indeed in many matches it was almost as intriguing to watch the coach with now so many past champions turning their hand to coaching National teams (amongst the illustrious group, Diane Bell, Cecile Nowak, Toshhiko Koga, Stephane Traineau…)
Nakamura didn't look back after beating the Scotsman, with a victory over another big name, Djamel Bouras (1996 Olympic Champion) taking him into the final.
In perhaps the best final of the evening Nakamura threw Korean In-Chul Cho (Olympic silver medallist) for ippon in just 25 seconds with tsuri-komi-ashi.
Bouras stormed back to throw Turaev (UZB) for ippon with his trademark harai-goshi from the belt and Randall recovered from his earlier loss to take the other bronze.
The French tradition of producing strong 48 kilogram fighters continued with Sarah Nichello-Rosso winning the host countries first title of the day. Nichello-Rosso had thrown Laura Moise of Romania and Chiho Hamano of Japan to make the final. While a new Cuban fighter in the form of Daniesk Carrion had made her first final much to the delight of Cuban Coach, Ronaldo Vietia from the other half of the draw. However, the final was controlled from the start by Nichello-Rosso who won her second title with an uchimata scoring yuko. Bronzes went to Alina Dimitriu who countered Alicia Diaz's (ESP) seoinage with a powerful uranage for ippon and to Japan's Chiho Hamon.
Without the presence of any of the 52kg Olympic medallists, Verdecia, Narasaki Liu or Kye - the 52kg was left wide open but there was still a host of quality fighters ready to take up the crown. The result was some startling judo.
In the first round, Inge Clement (BEL) threw Laetitia Tignola for ippon with uchimata - but then in turn found herself on the receiving end of two throws from Germany's Raffae Imbriani. The former European Champion first threw Clements forward with ogoshi before using her trademark uranage to make the final.
On the other side, Barbara Bukokska (POL) ended Marie Claire Retoux-Gasset's hopes for a gold in her home tournament as she firmly placed the former Olympic,World and European Champion on her back with ouchigari. But the Pole went no further and in the end from the bottom half it was Cuba to make its second final of the day with another new face as Zaisma Calderon leg grabbed Mirren Leon (ESP) for ippon. The good judo continued into the final as Imbriani launched Calderon backwards with a uranage for an undeniable ippon and the title.
With a whole new Cuban women's team entered, the talk was from the beginning of the day to watch, the new 57kg fighter, Yurisle Lupety. Something that had been reenforced as the Cuban Coach Ronaldo Veitia said that "She is better than Gonzales in all our physical testing" Indeed the young Lupety looked the part as she beat Belgium's Marisabel Lomba and then an even bigger upset as she took the scalp of Olympic Champion, Isabel Fernandez. But Micha Vernerova's footsweep in the semi suggested Lupety still has a few years to wait before she takes on her team mates illustrious crown. Olympic bronze medallist, Kie Kusakabe won the gold medal throwing the Czeck for ippon. Leaving Fernandez and Lupety to settle for the bronzes.