You may not want to believe it, but for some athletes or developments it still was a good judo year. Obviously we realise we still want to forget most of the year were Covid-19 dominated the newspapers, dominated sport and spoiled many judo tournaments at all levels and age categories.
Can you imagine the full stands at the IJF World Tour events in Tel Aviv, in Paris and Düsseldorf? Well, at least try to imagine how it was. Will it ever return? We just pray for it, but we don’t know at the level we were used to engage fans. Athletes have a role in that. The way they present themselves as heroes on the mat and melt their skills with the fans. Their contact from the mat is what we want to see. We need the fans, athletes need fans to reach the highest levels and to make the difference. Fans need the judoka.
January started with traditional training camps in Austria and Italy and the refereeing sport and education seminar. It was followed by the Grand Prix in Tel Aviv, which will be upgraded in 2021 as a Grand Slam. That suggests a change in the IJF World Tour where some European events have difficulties in organising it in the winter. Tel Aviv celebrated two Israeli gold medals for Paltchik and Sasson with the home crowd.
Peter Paltchik continued his success at the Grand Slam in Paris where he took gold. The story of Paris was the loss of Teddy Riner. The day would have come anyway some day but in Paris was the shock of the World Tour. The French had a lot to celebrate though with gold for Agbegnenou, Malonga and Dicko. Canadian Christa Deguchi won in Paris U57kg but her rival Jessica Klimkait was convincing in Düsseldorf. The Japanese Olympic team was formed in Germany where Japan took 8 gold medals. It was the basis for the selection for the Games … the postponed games.
In Düsseldorf Shirine Boukli claimed what was forgot to do in Paris where she lost to Daria Bilodid, in one of the best women’s finals of this year. Boukli was later added to the team of France for the European Championships in Prague and also claimed the European title. She is the revelation of the year in women’s judo.
At the return of the IJF World Tour in October the Russian team dominated the men’s tournament with 5 gold medals in the Hungarian capital. The event was well organized but started with the positive Italian team, that couldn’t compete. For the rest the IJF established its strict measures for organising the Grand Slam in Budapest and in the end it was a safe event. Starting with the medical tests prior to the tournament, that everyone must have. Both athletes and staff members all lived in the judo bubble to avoid any type of contagion.
The European Championships were postponed twice but it was successful event despite quite substantial cancellation of top athletes. Still it was safer to go to Prague than shopping in the supermarket athletes said. The event went well and the French women dominated the gold rush with five European titles for Boukli, Agbegnenou, Pinot, Malonga and ..again Dicko. Some beautiful and historic medals for Giuffrida and Karakas. Surprising gold for Victor Sterpu of Moldova and strong gold medals for Russian men: Mshvidobadze, Igolnikov and Bashaev.
In between also continental Opens were held in Sofia, Odivelas, Bratislava, Oberwart, Warsaw and Bariloche in South America. Then judo was stopped and continued in October, also in places like Yaounde, Dakar and Lima. With Pan American and African Championships in empty stadiums but still with the passion of judo.
The Croatian Judo federation gave joy to many ambitious youngsters who were able to compete at their likely highlight at the European Juniors and U23 Championships in Porec. Hungarian heavyweight Richard Sipocz took them both. Also Victor Sterpu and Tato Grigalashvili developed as new heroes with a European U23 title and followed by the senior European title. Grigalashvili was awarded as rising star by the IJF.
In December the world enjoyed the best fight of the year with two absolute heroes: Hifumi Abe and Joshiro Maruyama, a battle of 24 minutes for Olympic Qualification. We desparately followed the developments where all aspects of the values of judo were showed. Respect for both men.
In a time of corona not all initiatives in judo got the space that they deserve, however the IJF worked further on its Judo for peace project and involved many athletes online with many activities such as the celebrations of 40 years women's judo and the online judo fest. Also online all around the world online fitness programmes and educational videos were introduced. Judo continues and develop strong, but we missed it so much.
Time to move forward. In 2021 the IJF World Tour will be back in Qatar. After that is not yet announced, but there will always be judo. In our body, our mind and hopefully soon on the tatami.