The Land of fire - Azerbaijan, saw top flight international judo once again on Day 1 of the 2019 Baku Grand Slam.
And it was Spain who were on fire. After an explosive day Laura Martinez Abelenda, the Spanish number 2, found herself in the -48kg final. There she took on Spanish number 1 Julia Figueroa.
The final didn’t last long, with the number 2 launching her opponent with a powerful osoto gari, for her first ever Grand Slam Gold and our Woman of the Day.
She was awarded her medal by Mr Arkady Rotenberg, President of the International Judo Fund.
"The first exchange was bad for me, she dominated the Kumi Kata. But in the second or the third, I can’t remember exactly, I managed to get her left arm, and I executed Osoto Gari," Laura Martinez said in an interview.
Elsewhere, Marrakech Grand Prix winner Amandine Buchard of France won the -52kg gold in Azerbaijan as former world champion Ai Shishime of Japan picked up a knee injury during their final and could no longer continue. Five-time Grand Prix winner Buchard claimed her first Grand Slam title at the expense of the unfortunate Japanese who took silver at the Worlds last year.
Our Man of the Day was Denis Vieru. In the -66kg final he took on home favourite Nijat Shikhalizada, and silenced the home crowd when he took him back for an emphatic ippon. This is the Moldovan’s second Grand Slam title this year and he is surely a contender for the upcoming World Championships.
"In the Final, this was an interesting contest, I caught the moment for a counter attack. Maybe I was a bit lucky, but I capitalised on this good moment, and used it effectively for the final score," Denis Vieru said in an interview.
Georgia’s Temur Nozadze took on Felipe Kitadai of Brazil in a nail-biting -60kg final. Dropping underneath the Georgian, Kitadai displayed his strength by standing back up and launching Nozadze for a fantastic Ippon. A great display of persistence, drive, and power. The Brazilian was overcome with joy as he also took his first ever Grand Slam Gold.
In the women's -57kg final, current World Champion Tsukasa Yoshida of Japan faced off against current Olympic Champion Rafaela Silva of Brazil. It was an incredible match up, which was clinched by Silva in the last few seconds of the contest. Driving her opponent over she stated her dominance and took the -57kg gold medal, helping Brazil top the medals standings at the end of the opening day of the tournament.
Move of the Day
Our Move of the Day came from the silver medalist in the -66kg category, Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan.
Shikhalizada gave the home fans something to cheer about by sending Mongolia’s Baskhuu Yondonperenlei flying with a colossal hip throw. Both fighters took off in what was a great display of the power and passion of Azerbaijan.
And this is surely a good sign of what is to come in the next two days of thrilling judo in Baku.