Paralympic legend Ilham Zakiyev is among Azerbaijan’s medal hopes as the teams prepare for a second day of competition at the IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku.
The two times Paralympic champion and six-time European champion faces tough opposition In the top-weight +100kg category. Zakiyev will need all his experience – and the full support of the home crowd – if he is to overcome current world champion Mohammadreza Kheirollahzadeh from Iran.
In the -90kg category, Rovshan Safarov and Ramin Aliyev are hopeful of progressing, while Kamil Aghayev, in his first international, carries the flag for Azerbaijan in the -100kg category.
Safarov is the current European champion and took bronze at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. At 31, he is one of the most experienced of the Azerbaijan para-judo team, with a host of international medals to his credit.
Like the men, Azerbaijan’s women judoka compete in three weight categories on the second day of the competition.
In the -63kg category, Khanim Huseynova must be a medal contender with a gold medal at the 2017 European Championship and Grand Slam title in the same year. In a category with only six other competitors, she will be up against the number-one ranked Nicolina Pernheim from Sweden.
Zulfiya Huseynova is the five times world sambo champion and, aged 47, is competing in a judo international for the first time. In the -70kg category and with a wealth of experience behind her, Huseynova is a competitor to watch closely.
In the top-weight +70kg category, Azerbaijan has two contenders, Dursedef Karimova and Khatira Ismiyeva. Both are competing in their first international competition and while gaining valuable experience their medal potential in the top-flight is uncertain. However, with the support of Azerbaijan fans at the Heydar Aliyev Sport Complex, anything is possible.
On the first day of the IBSA Judo Grand Prix, Azerbaijan picked up a total of nine medals – five in the men’s competition and four in the women’s. These included a gold medal for Vugar Shirinli, Sevda Valiyeva and Shahana Hajiyeva.
The IBSA (International Blind Sport Association) Judo Grand Prix has attracted 212 athletes from 35 countries. The competition is organised In Baku by the Paralympic Committee of Azerbaijan.