PARIS, FRANCE May
out our 2001 European Championships photo gallery »
Day 1: Friday, May 18
By: Barnaby Chesterman
Men : -100 kg, +100 kg
Women : -70 kg, -78 kg, +78 kg
Exactly 50 years since the first European championships,
the tournament returned to it's first home in the romantic city
of Paris in France. And romance was on the menu on the opening day
of the tournament as Ulla Werbrouck made the headlines by winning
her seventh European title.
In a stadium that was embarrassingly empty for most
of the day, a handful of Belgian fans cooked up an impressive atmosphere
for their limited numbers every time the great champion stepped
onto the mat and she was swept up to seventh heaven on a wave of
sound. Seven titles is a great achievement, but on top of that,
it was Werbrouck's 13th medal at consecutive
European championships, something not even the great Ingrid Bergmanns
achieved (although she did win more medals as she always fought
in the open category as well as her weight).
But although Werbrouck's was the story of the day,
there were also plenty of other headline grabbers, such as Ariel
Zeevi claiming Israel's first ever European judo gold medal and
Celine Lebrun lifting her third successive under 78kg crown for
the home nation. With many past European champions having retired
after the Olympic Games last year, there was also an opportunity
for a new breed to stake their claim for titles. And all this on
those popular yellow mats.
Women's over 78kg category
The reigning champion, Karina Bryant of Britain,
was replaced by Simone Callender for the heavyweight category, although
Bryant will fight in the Open instead. Callender took advantage
of her rare opportunity in this division to squeeze past Malgor
Gornicka of Poland in the first round, but then came unstuck against
the powerful German, Katja Gerber, in the quarter-final.
Gerber dominated with her high left-hand lapel grip
and was never in any danger as she forced two penalties to reach
the last four. There she faced Mara Kovacevic of Yugoslavia, but
again she never looked in any danger. Gerber scored Yuko with a
left Harai-goshi and wound up the Yugoslav to Keikoku before finishing
her off with an Ippon from a left Ko-soto-gari.Gerber's progress
to the final was impressive, but so too was that of Tzetlana Dongouzachvili
of Russia who similarly dominated her side of the draw. The Russian
pined the new French heavyweight fighter, Lindsie Marguerite, for
Ippon in the first round and then threw Clementina Papa of Italy
for Waza-ari in the quarter-finals. Dongouzachvili then claimed
her place in the final by throwing Marie-Elis Veys of Belgium, another
new face on the tatami, for Ippon.
Gerber was the favourite going into the final, having
won the Open title in 1999. And she was first onto the score sheet
with a Tani-otoshi take down registering a Waza-ari. But Dongouzachvili
staged a fightback and was a little unlucky only to be giving a
Koka for a similar technique to Gerber's. The German resorted to
defensive measures to hold on and was twice penalised for passivity,
but that was not enough for the Russian who had to settle for the
The home crowd's hopes for a first medal of the day
were dashed when Marguerite tamely succumbed to Kovacevic in the
first bronze meal fight. The French woman was trying an Uranage
but got it all wrong and collapsed on her back with her opponent
landing on top of her for an Ippon victory that she did little to
merit. The other bronze medal went to Veys who threw Susan Somolinos
of Spain, also for Ippon. Somolinos was somewhat fortunate to have
made it to the bronze fight, having been handed a 'golden score'
victory against Callender in the repechage final when the Brit was
penalised for passivity despite having been by far the more attacking
throughout the contest.
Men's over 100kg category
With David Douillet retiring after his Olympic swansong
last year where he became the most successful Judoka ever in international
competition, the French hopes rested on Jerome Dreyfus. The new
number 1 French heavyweight is small compared to most of the fighters
in his category, but caused a sensation at the Tournoi de Paris
earlier this year when he threw the giant, 200kg Spanish reigning
Open champion, Aythami Ruano, for Ippon in the final.
French TV had focussed on the Tournoi champion throughout
the week as he is now trained by Douilet. But Dreyfus was caught
with a sucker punch in his first fight, when a failed attempt at
a sacrificial throw, gifted Dennis Braidotti of Italy an Ippon victory.
Braidotti had never before won a medal at this level, but he was
having one of those days where everything seems to be falling into
place. In the quarter-final he edged out the reigning champion,
Dennis van der Geest of the Netherlands, by a penalty and then he
threw the dangerous Georgian, Alexsi Davitashvili for ippon in the
semi-final. Braidotti scored with a peculiar O-soto-gari, gripping
his opponent round the waist rather than on the lapel.
Braidotti was destined to be an overwhelming under-dog
in the final after the other semi-final pitted three-time European
champion, Selim Tataroglu of Turkey against two-time champion, Tamerlan
Tmenov of Russia. Both had demonstrated the virtues of skill against
size in the previous round, overcoming 200kg opponents. Tmenov benefited
from Ruano's negativity while Tataroglu threw Valentin Ruslyakov
of Ukraine for Ippon with Uchi-mata.
In their semi-final Tmenov was still giving away about 30kg but
was unfazed again and took the fight to his bigger Turkish opponent.
Tmenov scored Yuko with a left-handed
Uchi-mata and then followed that into a hold. The
Russian was completely off the mat and was only scoring with the
hold because Tataroglu's left foot was still in the mat area. But
the Turk never realised this and rather than lifting his foot out
of the mat area to cancel the hold, he actually rocked Tmenov back
onto the mat to hold on for an Ippon victory.
The final was quite a mismatch with the brilliant
Russian again proving that, in his case, size doesn't matter. Tmenov
needed just 23 seconds to throw Braidotti for Ippon with a stunning
left Uchi-mata. In mid-throw, the Italian looked likely to land
on his front or side, but Tmenov gave just an extra little pull
on the sleeve to turn Braidotti onto his back for a perfect score
and regain the title he lost in last year's final to van der Geest.
Having lost to one small heavyweight in the semi-final,
Tataroglu was again in danger against Dreyfus in the bronze fight,
after the Frenchman had overwhelmed van der Geest in the repechage.
Dreyfus frequently came close to scoring with drop Ippon-seoi-nage
attacks and a couple of Tomoe-nage attempts. But Tataroglu needed
only one chance and took it to throw Dreyfus for Ippon with a side
take down, executed at great speed for such a big man. Davitashvili
also bounced back from semi-final disappointment to take his place
on the medal rostrum, by throwing Ruslan Sharpau of Byelorussia
Women's under 78kg
Celine Lebrun of France was both the defending champion
and the overwhelming favourite to land a third straight European
title having been by far the best performing European over the last
two years. But on home soil the expectation was high.
In 1999, Lebrun won her first European title and then also added
a bronze medal at the World championships in Birmingham. She was
the only European to win a medal there and then won a silver medal
at the Olympics last year after her second European title. Lebrun
was, in truth, robbed in the final on a split judges' decision with
the gold medal going to the Chinese fighter, Lin Tang. But, yet
again, Lebrun was the top-placed European.
In this small field of just 10 fighters, Lebrun went straight into
a quarter-final against Catarina Rodrigues of Portugal. Rodrigues
caused Lebrun some problems, but her strong left-handed belt grip,
allowed her to dominated the attacking. Rodrigues was twice penalised
for passivity in desperate defence and Lebrun marched into the last
four. Again she had a tough fight against Claudia Zwiers of the
Netherlands, but through with a Yuko from her trademark Russian-style
The other finalist was the Belgian, Heidi Rakels, who once again
mastered the knack of squeezing threw when appearing to deserve
to lose. Herr first fight she trailed former champion, Esther San-Miguel
of Spain, for most of the fight, before scoring a late Yuko to win.
Then a late Tani-otoshi counter technique scored Waza-ari against
Poli Tchekanina of Russia when again she had trailed by a penalty
for long periods. In her semi-final she was thrown for Waza-ari
by Anastasia Matrosova of Ukraine, but she then used her experience
to grind her way back into the fight. Matrosova seemed to freeze
with victory in her grasp and conceded three penalties to tie the
scores and give Rakels a chance in sudden death. The wily Belgian
took full advantage and scored a Waza-ari herself that Matrsova
almost turned into a score for herself.
Rakels' cagey tactical ploy held Lebrun for three minutes in the
final, but the aggressive Frenchwoman has proved over the last two
years that she's dominant in Europe in this category and her combative
style gradually wore down the Belgian. Lebrun scored Ippon with
a left-sided Koshi-guruma but then couldn't fight back the tears
of joy from winning in front of her home crowd.
Zwiers came back in the bronze fight to beat Tchekanina with a busy
attacking display. Zwiers scored a lighting quick Koka and then
continued to pressure the Russian throughout. She clinched the medal
with a left Harai-goshi for Ippon and her first European medal since
winning under 66kg gold in 1996. Another fighter who's switched
weight categories to good effect is Michelle Rogers of Britain who
was twice a medallist in the over 72kg category before the weights
were changed. Rogers faced Matrosova for the other bronze medal
and won it with a driving leg-grab O-uchi-gari for Yuko mid-way
through the fight. Matrosova also picked up a chui and never had
an answer to Rogers' strong hip-throw attacks.
Men's under 100kg
Another Frenchman, Ghislain Lemaire, came under the
spotlight to see if he could fill the shoes of a departing champion.
Stephane Traineau bowed out of international judo with a bronze
medal in Sydney last year, but was also world champion in 1991 and
won three European titles in his career. Lemaire was no stranger
to playing the role of understudy to Traineau, having twice before
won medals when filling in for the man who is now his coach.
Lemaire opened with a tough battle against the 1992
Olympic and 1993 World champion, Antal Kovacs of Hungary. Apart
from a stunning victory against the incomparable Kosei Inoue of
Japan at the Millennium Cup in Budapest earlier this year, Kovacs
results have never lived up to his early heroics. Once again he
looked like a spent forced and laboured his way to a golden score
defeat against Lemaire. The Frenchman then disposed of Alexei Cornescu
of Moldova with a lightning quick Tomoe-nage before throwing Daniel
Guerschner of Germany for Ippon with Uchi-mata. Lemaire looked like
falling by the wayside in the semi-final when he trailed the Finn,
Timo Peltola, by a penalty and a Koka with time running out. But
the Finn cracked and gave away to passivity penalties to hand the
fight to Lemaire.
In the other half of the draw, two fighters were
looking highly impressive. Ariel Zeevi disposed of opponents with
some classic attacking judo, including a defeat of Elco van der
Geest of the Netherlands in just 32 seconds in the quarter-final.
His semi-final opponent was Iveri Jikurauli of Georgia who totally
outgripped Pawel Sitarsji of Poland in his quarter-final before
throwing him for Ippon with Ura-nage to but some gloss on his display.
Zeevi was on fire, though, and Jikurauli never got close to him
in the semi-final encounter. The Israeli scored Yuko with Ko-soto-gari
and then Ippon with Ura-nage.
The final was an entertaining affair with the home
crowd willing on Lemaire. His Tomoe-nage had worked to good effect
throughout the tournament, but he seemed reluctant to use it against
Zeevi and paid the price. Zeevi scored Yuko with a drop Seoi-nage
and then added a Koka. Lemaire could not get anywhere near him and
Zeevi finally finished off his opponent in the last minute with
a brilliant Te-guruma pick-up for Ippon. It was Israel's first European
gold medal and one that's looked likely from Zeevi ever since he
wowed the crowds with brilliant Ippon victories to take fifth places
at the 1999 World championships and last year's Olympic Games, (he
lost to Traineau for the bronze).
Jikurauli was in trouble against former champion,
Guershcner in the bronze medal fight, having been thrown for Ippon.
But the German tried to hang on and conceded penalties to level
the score. The fight went into sudden-death and with Guerschner
wilting, Jikurauli threw him with a left-sided leg-grab O-uchi-gari
to win the medal. Peltola was another who seemed to wilt as he lasted
far longer than he is accustomed to at this level. Peltola was soundly
outclassed by van der Geest for the other podium finish, conceding
two Yuko scores and two penalties. After the disappointment of Dennis'
elimination in the heavyweights, it was nice to see another van
der Geest on the podium.
Women's under 70kg
This was another small field, but that mattered little
to Werbrouck who was chasing history. Now, another great Belgian,
Ingrid Bergmanns, won 14 European medals and the Dutch fighter,
Angelique Seriese won eight golds, but both fought in the Open weight
category as well as their own weight. Werbrouck's success has all
been achieved in a single weight category and she had won a medal
ever year since 1989 coming into this championship.
Unlike previous years, though, where she won majestically,
Werbrouck was forced to scrap for everything this year. Her defeats
against Ursula Martin of Spain twice last year in the European semi-final
and the first round of the Olympics, proved some fighters could
nullify the threat of her potent Uchi-mata. And again today spoiling
tactics restricted her. Nicky Boontje of the Netherlands was beaten
thanks to a penalty score and then Amina Abdellatif of France was
edged out by a Koka. Werbrouck's semi-final was the closest of the
lot as she needed sudden death to overcome Mariela Spacek of Austria.
But almost two minute's into that extra period was the only time
Werbrouck had a chance to work her magic and she scored Waza-ari
with her favourite Uchi-mata to secure a place in the final.
With last year's champion, Martin, absent, her replacement,
Cecilia Blanco, took over where she had left off, beating Andrea
Pazoutova of the Czech Republic and Alina Croitoru of Romania en
route to the semi-final. There she met the young British hope, Amanda
Costello, who had stormed to that stage with quick Ippon victories
in 15 and 29 seconds against Iouli Semenova of Russia and Svetlana
Tsimashenka of Byelorussia respectively.
Costello, just 20-years-old and standing in for Olympic
silver-medallist, Kate Howey, could not repeat her earlier dynamic
attacking against the tactically astute Spaniard.
The fight went into sudden-death and Blanco scored
with a low Ippon-seoi-nage to face Werbrouck in the final.
The Belgian was determined not to succumb to another
Spaniard this year and controlled the grip right from the start.
She scored Koka with Ko-soto-gari and added Yuko with a rare left
Ko-ouchi-gari. Werbrouck had injured her right thumb in her semi-final
and was having difficulty gripping, but she took her time during
breaks and used all her experience to secure her seventh title and
a 13th successive medal.
With Costello's early puff blown away, she was a
shadow of her earlier self and could not match Adriana Dadci of
Poland in the fight for bronze. Two all-or-nothing clinches went
the way of the Pole, who scored Yuko both times, who then secured
her medal with an Ippon from O-soto-gari. The other bronze fight
went to sudden death as Spacek stage a late rally to level the score
against Semenova in regulation time. The Russian then gave away
a passivity penalty in the extra time period and had to settle for
With five different countries winning gold medals
on the first day, this European championships looks set to be an
entertaining won with a wide spread of medallists. And as some top
fighters seem to be resting before the World championships, there
could be a few more new names standing on the top tier of the rostrum
before the weekend is over.