The Grand Prix in Zagreb will be the center of world class judo this week. With 477 athletes from 67 countries, 282 men and 195 women and three tatami. There will be enough excitement to look out for. The third Qualification event in the IJF World Tour is a fact and one of the most appealing athletes is Olympic Champion Uta Abe from Japan.
In Budapest it was her brother Hifumi who claimed the gold and contributed to the eight gold medals won by the Japanese team. Now it is the turn of sister Uta, also an Olympic champion and also missing from the map since the Tokyo Games.
In her category U52kg, she will have as her most serious rival the Kosovar Distria Krasniqi, Olympic champion at U48kg and wanting to carve out a niche here. It will be necessary to go over the Israeli Green Primo, the Swiss Fabienne Kocher and the Spanish Ana Pérez Box but you can be sure that all of them will look closely at the Japanese.
Another world champion who reappears is Christa Deguchi. In Budapest it was her arch-rival and compatriot, as well as world champion, Jessica Klimkait, who participated in her first World Judo Tour tournament this year. It’s now up to Deguchi, as if each wanted to avoid the other before the World Championships in Tashkent. Speaking of avoiding, the same could be said of Frenchman Teddy Riner and Czech Lukas Krpaleck. Riner smashed everyone in Hungary a few days ago and Krpalek wants to do the same in Croatia after being inactive for many months. The double Olympic champion will be one of the highlights of the tournament.
There is more, in the opposite direction. Georgian Lasha Shavdatuashvili and Azerbaijani Hidayat Heydarov may repeat their final from last Saturday at U73kg, with the permission of another Azerbaijani, Rustam Orujov. On the last occasion Heydarov was far superior.
Another detail will be the possible reunion between the Georgian Tato Grigalashvili and the Azerbaijani Saeid Mollaei in the U81kg category. Those two have not seen each other since Tokyo.
Finally, the world champion at U70kg, Barbara Matic, will be the clear favourite for being at home. Judo is back in Zagreb.