With Sharafuddin Lutfillaev, Uzbekistan sent a top athlete to the European Open in Minsk. The lightweight who won two silver medals at the Grand Slam of Paris became the winner in Minsk, an event that is considered as the test event for the 2019 European Games.
In the final Lutfillaev met a match with Luka Mkheidze of France however the Uzbek is a class apart. In the semi final he had beaten Belgian junior Jorre Verstraeten who needed to win his bronze medal bout to belong to the Belgian team for the World Championships in Baku and so he did. Verstraeten and Sakhavat Gadzhiev won bronze U60kg.
Lutfillaev was not the only winner from Uzbekistan, also Khikmatillokh Turaev captured gold in his weight class U73kg. It was his first victory at a World Cup event. He was the best with four Russians following him in the first five spots. However Russia did take gold U66kg by Aram Grigoryan in a surprising final. More expected was Dzmitry Minkou of Belarus who won the tournament last year. But the young star from Belarus is out of form and lost his 1/8 final against Kazach Yesset Kuanov who reached the final.
In the women’s division Otgontsetseg Galbadrakh was the other world class athlete. Galbadrakh who fights for Kazachstan won Olympic bronze for her new country and can win a medal at each top event, a gold medal in Minsk wasn’t a surprise. The rest of the field was no comparison for the tiny born Mongolian. Tatiana Aiakina (RUS) couldn’t fight the final.
Belarus cheered for Kseniya Danilovich who captured the only home gold medal on Saturday. The biggest career highlight for the 24-year old judoka and Belarussian Champion. She is considered as the successor of Darya Skrypnik who didn’t compete. Skrypnik is still the number one choice, but the time has come for Danilovich to be taken seriously for the bigger events. However this encouraging gold medal is not yet a grade for the international top as the women’s field was not too tough. Danilovich defeated Katri Kakko of Finland in the final, and so everyone booked her personal successes. Also for Finnish champion Kakko it was her first World Cup medal ever.
Julia Kowalczyk is a more arrived judoka. The Polish won her category U57kg in the final against Belgian hope Mina Libeer. Kowalczyk bested Dewy Karthaus in the quarter final who came back with a bronze medal and left German Pauline Starke with empty hands. Ulyana Minenkova (BLR) surprised Arleta Podolak (POL) by ippon. It was clearly the new generation prevailing in Minsk in this weight category.
British Lubjana Piovesana is one of the most successful international judoka in the Junior European Cups. However at this level, with this field, she seems to be able to convert into senior gold as well. Another upcoming youngster Laerke Olsen (DEN) took the silver medal. European U23 champion Geke van den Berg (NED) and Tina Zeltner (AUT) who found herself comfortable U63kg since this year showed their greed to win and won bronze.
Tomorrow more Belarussian medals are expected and perhaps last year’s milestone of three gold medals can still be reached or even improved. It would be another indication of the importance of judo in Belarus and a good motivation for the organization of the European Games where judo plays a significant role.