HAVANA, Jan. 22th (Xinhua) The Judo Grand Prix tournament with 428 athletes from 69 countries attending got underway in Havana on Thursday.
The competition is important as it will count towards the qualifying list for the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.
The draw for the 14 divisions (men and women) took place on Thursday at the Melia Habana hotel and the president of the International Judo Federation (IJF), Romania’s Marius Vizer, gave a news conference.
Vizer arrived in the Cuban capital on Wednesday and this visit marks his third stay on the Caribbean island after he visited in June 2014 to participate in a similar competition and in September 2015 where he evaluated the preparations for the current tournament.
The competition schedule will begin on Friday in the Sport City Coliseum with fights in the 48, 52 and 57 kilogram categories for women and 60 and 66 kilograms categories for men.
The fights will continue on Saturday with the 63 and 70 kilograms categories for women and 73, 81 and 90 kilograms categories for men.
The tournament will conclude on Sunday with the 78 and over 78 kilograms categories for women and 100 and over 100 kilograms categories for men.
As hosts, Cuba will compete with four teams for each gender. The Caribbean country is led by Idalis Ortiz, Olympic monarch and two-time world champion in the over 78 kilograms category, and Asley Gonzalez, silver medallist in the 90 kilograms category and former world champion.
Among the foreign teams Brazil, the United States, Azerbaijan, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Mongolia and China stand out as wall as individuals from other nations.
In the men’s competition, great things are expected from Azerbaijanis Rustam Orujov (73kg) and Elmar Gasimov (100kg), who come in top of the world ranking, as well as various other world and Olympic medallists.
The women’s competition will also feature some stars from the sport such as Argentinian world champion Paula Pareto (48kg), Brazilian Sarah Menezes (48kg) and American Kayla Harrison (78kg). Menezes and Harrison both won gold medals at the London Olympics 2012.
The main goal of all the Cuban competitors is to get the largest amount of points for the Olympic 2016 classification which will grant 22 direct places for men and 14 for women, according to Ortiz.
The tournament in Havana will give 300 points for gold medal winners, 180 for silver medallists and 120 for bronze medallists.
For Cuban judo, the aim is to end up with 10 representatives – five men and five women – in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
The IJF’s Sports Director, Czech Vladimir Barta, said he was confident that Havana would be a “very good tournament” due to the level of the competitors and the rivalry. This generates ambition to win points for the world ranking ahead of the summer games.
Barta also praised the increased number of athletes and countries compared to the first edition in 2014, when 297 judokas participated from 40 nations.
In the 2014 edition, Cuba came in second place with two gold, two silver and four bronze medals. The women’s team had the best results (2 gold, one silver and 3 bronze medals). Georgia won the competition overall with 3 golds and two bronze medals.
This event has the largest country representation out of all single sport tournaments to ever have been organized by Cuba, according to local officials.
This edition will have a superior level especially as it is an Olympic qualification event, said Vizer.
“We are very focused so that our sport can become one of the main attractions at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” concluded Vizer.