From 24-26 September Zagreb is the judoheart of the world organizing the eight Grand Prix in Croatia, seven times in the Croatian capital, the first edition in 2013 was held in Rijeka. Zagreb is the first opportunity for many athletes to showcase their capabilities and ambitions since the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Croatia is a proud nation familiar for its athletes in many sports such as football, alpine skiing, waterpolo, basketball, tabletennis, tennis, handball and of course judo. With the first ever World Champion Barbara Matic, the Croatian Judo Federation is a proud contributor in Croatian sports and the famous Barbi is the exponent of Croatia’s top athletes over all sports, elected as sports woman of the year, even before her world title last year in Budapest.
Barbi is back
The Croatians can celebrate and showed what they mean after Matic came back with the gold medal and filled the streets of Split with joy, tears and fireworks. Fireworks is the ambition of the Croatians at the Grand Prix in the Dom Sportova where many top athletes had been winning essential medals boosting their careers. 2016 Olympic Champion Tina Trstenjak captured even three titles in Zagreb. Her compatriot and 2016 Olympic medallist Ana Velensek was even crowned four times. The Slovenian’s fight like boxers, they always push hard, are conditionally strong and would do well in the boxing odds but always respect the opponents and always perform as you expect.
Olympic bronze medallist in Tokyo Toth Krisztian looks like a boxer, but he is cool, calculated and knows when to take the essential medals. He also won World bronze at home in Budapest and won the Zagreb title even three times. The list of top athletes includes the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Champions Akira Sone, Takanori Nagase, Naohisa Takato, Hamada Shori, Teddy Riner (team gold) and contains many medallists of this year’s blockbuster event: Toth, Trstenjak, Lasha Shavdatuashvili, Niyaz Ilyasov, Guram Tushishvili, Daria Bilodid, Madeleine Malonga and world champion Jessica Klimkait. Speaking about World Champions, Barbara Matic will certainly be present and is on the starting list so far. For Matic it was a crazy period for her with all the attention after her world title and Olympic Games where she lost the contest for bronze and finished fifth in her category U70kg. For the top athletes this is a period to chill out and prepare for the next Olympic qualification for Paris in 2024, that starts early next year, but Matic is a proud woman, who would want to show her best in Zagreb.
New judo generation in Croatia
Matic is shining in the latest video promo of the International Judo Federation with her sister Brigita Matic who was herself also a Junior World Champion, just like Barbara who is 14 months older. That generation was the foundation of Croatia’s pearls, mainly led by women who internationally set the tone. A young generation that started to win medals over the last decade and also as a team collected many successes such as team bronze at Junior World Championships (2013) and a European title with the Juniors of Croatia, always including Barbara Matic. The team inspired a new generation with cadet judoka who now have reached senior level as well and included current judo stars such as Karla Prodan, Lara Cvjetko, Iva Oberan and Tihea Topolovec, all youngsters who found their way to the judo stairs of famous athletes in Croatia.
Youth Olympic (team) champion Ana Viktorija Puljiz will be in the starting grid U52kg. She won the cadet European title four years ago and is now ready to feel the bathwater at senior world level. Tena Sikic is from the generation of the Matic sisters and is back at this level fighting U57kg. Iva Oberan is definitely fighting for a medal U63kg. She won the European Open in Zagreb this year. The U70kg is the category to look out for with both Barbara Matic and Lara Cvjetko lined up. Also Cvjetko won a European Open event in Prague this year and she was close to a European medal in Lisbon in April. Recently she was in the final of the Junior European Championships, showing how young this new generation is.
On Sunday Karla Prodan is the one to look out for. She catapulted herself to the top of the world U78kg and won a European medal last year in Prague and was even able to compete at the Olympic Games as 23-year youngster. This will become her Olympic cycle to dominate and take the medals in this very competitive category with physically strong and tall, athletic women. Another Croatian athlete qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, heavyweight Ivana Maranic. She will compete in Zagreb alongside Helena Vukovic another super talent.
Not just the power women of Croatia will fight for medals, perhaps we can see the Kumric brothers in action when it comes to the medal fights. Zlatko and Marko Kumric may be able to show their best with this limited field of approx. 300 participants. Dominik Druzeta is perhaps Croatia’s best man in the moment, he will fight in a competitive weight division U81kg. Croatia is ready for the Grand Prix and welcoming some of the best athletes such as number one seed U81kg Tato Grigalashvili (GEO), Arman Adamian (RUS), Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA) and the return of Andrea Stojadinov of Serbia U48kg. Traditionally a strong Slovenian team with Andreja Leski and Kaja Kajzer. Soon the action starts on your screen live from Zagreb.