Edition No. 25. Winter, 2000. Today is
 

President PutinTHE 1ST PRESIDENT'S CUP
MAGNITOGORST, RUSSIA


By: Bob Willingham



250,000 dollars!!!

This is the amount of prize money that was divided between the successful teams attending the first ever "Presidents Cup", held on December 9th 2000 by the Russian Judo Federation in Magnitogorsk, Siberia. A princely $100,000 for the winning team, $50,000 for the Silver medallists, $25,000 for both the teams taking Bronze and $12,500 for each of the four remaining teams.

Seven teams came as a result of the invitation. Hungary, Belarus, Japan and Uzbekistan were all fielding National teams and were joined by three strong Club teams (boasting a mixture of international players) from Liberty in Romania, Abensburg in Germany and Le Vallois in France. Along with the "home" team of Yawara Neva these giants of the judo world combined to provide riveting judo in a first class event.The first rounds, semi finals and Bronze matches were all fought-off on two mat areas during the first session of the day, which lasted from 10.00am until about 1.00pm. But once these were over a team of uniformly tracksuited helpers swarmed into the arena and, at remarkable speed, efficiently rearranged the mats to provide us with one central area for the finals.

An impressive opening ceremony began with excellent Judo demonstrations. These alternated between classic judo, shown in dynamic and flowing form by two young women, and more unorthodox judo from two young men who launched themselves into a series of extraordinary pick-ups with great athleticism. The crowd were clearly delighted as they waited eagerly for the arrival of President Putin. The knowledge that he would be coming to watch the finals had packed the huge stadium with spectators. As anticipation grew a variety of beautifully costumed dances were performed as a lively end to the opening ceremony. A huge security screen had been set up in and around the stadium which was as impressive as it was efficient, the outer perimeter being manned by the armed forces and the arena floor by the archetypal "plain clothes" under cover forces. As President Putin finally appeared in the stadium he was met with a roar of approval and much enthusiastic clapping and cheering. Wearing a simple grey woollen jersey he seemed very relaxed, casually waving to the crowd before sitting down at the head table with the Russian Judo Federation President, Vladimir Shestakov, and Marius Vizer the EJU President.

The final match between Yawara Neva and Liberty started well for the local crowd with their home team taking the first two contests. But just to put a halt to the "white washes" handed out earlier in the day against the Hungarian and Uzbekistan teams, Liberty were able to pull back fights three and four. The first courtesy of a huge pick-up from Vazagashvilli (-73kg) against Makerov and the second thanks to Grecov (-81kg) producing a neat transfer from a hold into San-gaku-gatame to gain a submission from Pipia.

The tension was at its peak when Taov RUS (-90kg) came out to face Romanian hero Croitoru. President Putin's reaction said it all as Russia took back the lead; he leapt into the air with both arms above his head. Leader of the country he may be but it's good to see he's still a judo-man at heart. The last two fights went to plan for Russia, with the young heavyweight Mikhaylin rounding it off by beating Liberty's massive 200kg Spaniard, Ruano.

With the home team victorious, and an ecstatic crowd basking in the reflected glory, President Putin then went walkabout in the stadium arena greeting old friends and stopping to have pictures taken with various invited VIP's. Some bold members of the audience began calling out to him to go onto the mat and do some throws but this time he declined. Vladimer Shestakov, Russian Judo President, said "I personally wanted Russia to win of course, but especially because the President was here and I knew he would enjoy it. His involvement in our sport is a great help to us in a political sense. He helps to make judo "big" in Russia because he does judo himself. Because he is the President it raises the profile of the sport all around the world, and this will encourage more people to join us."

Marius Vizer, EJU President said, "I think this gave us a good preview of how well the Grand Prix will work. The organisation was well up to European standards and the quality of the judo itself was generally good. Looking to the future, for this tournament and for other similar ones, we must produce a method of selection for teams and establish a classification based, first and foremost, on quality. We need teams that are strong and produce a consistently high standard. I would also like to say that, although there have been occasional difficulties at the organisational level, the organiser's hospitality here has been very good. Marvellous! Also, the presence of President Putin at these championships has been excellent for Judo. It was a shame it couldn't take place in Moscow, however when the Grand Prix takes place there, I am convinced it will be a great success for Judo. I hope that, working as a team, we'll do a good job launching the Grand Prix. The first two dates have already been set - the end of September in Moscow and on to Seville for the end of November."

The 2nd Presidents Cup is expected to be held later this year in St Petersburg with the same or even more prize money!!

Ed


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