Two days of amazing action, 35 countries, over 230 athletes with sight impairments – that was the 2019 IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku. It was a competition packed with drama, skill, victory and disappointment. But some moments will live on …
Azerbaijan’s first gold medal of the IBSA Judo Grand Prix 2019 came from Vugar Shirinli. The 27-year-old judoka set out to improve on his bronze medal performance at last year’s World Championship. On the first day of the competition in Baku, he did it in spectacular style. He beat Romania’s Florin Bologa in an all-action -60kg final, cheered on by home fans, to earn the gold medal and career highlight.
Azerbaijan’s Rovshan Safarov produced one of the Grand Prix’s greatest surprises in his semi final fight against Oleksandr Nazarenko. Launching into the attack as soon as the fight started, he beat his Ukranian rival in just THREE SECONDS. Safarov, who took third place at last year’s World Championships, went on to win a Grand Prix silver medal in the -90kg category.
It was Azerbaijan versus Azerbaijan when Afag Sultanova, who won Paralympic gold in London, faced her teammate Sevda Valiyeva in the final of the -57kg category. Extra spice was added because the younger Valiyeva, a European champion herself, moved up a weight for this competition.
The crowd held its breath while the two Azerbaijanis grappled with fire and passion. With 2:17 on the clock, Valiyeva threw the Paralympic champion to claim gold.
When Italy’s Carolina Costa faced Hongyu Wang at the World Championships last year, the Chinese giant won. In Baku they met again in the final of the top weight +70kg category. From the outset the match was intense, with Costa fighting to tame the sheer power and size of her opponent.
But Costa hung on and summoned every ounce of her courage and experience to land Wang on her back to win gold just seconds before the end of the match. As a tearful Costa rose and punched the air, the Baku crowd gave her one of the loudest cheers of the competition.
It was dramatic. It was brutal. It was seven minutes of raw emotion. As the Grand Prix reached its climax, two-times Paralympic gold medal winner Ilham Zakiyev faced Georgian judoka Revaz Chikoidze to decide the +100kg bronze medal.
The fight was a clash of Titans. Twice the match was stopped while Zakiyev received medical attention for a cut. The match reached four minutes then the punishment continued into golden score. Both men picked up penalties and started to tire. The crowd, including Zakiyev’s son Ilkin, shouted their support for Zakiyev. But it was not to be. Revaz Chikoidze won the bronze medal.