Edition No. 29. Winter, 2001.
 
The First International Grand Prix
Moscow, Russia
13 October 2001


By: Simon Hicks
The finest fighters in the World have been lured to Moscow by the promise of fame, and for the first time fortune, to do battle with each other. The TV broadcast is being relayed live to the big screens on the streets of Moscow outside the magnificent hall, which stands in the very shadow of the Kremlin. The victors are to take away substantial prize money, $7,500 for the first place, with the promise of further and more lucrative events to follow.

Each category fields only eight fighters: those invited are the four Olympic medallists from Sydney, the gold and Silver medallists from the World Championships in Munich, the current European Champion and a host nation, Russian, competitor. The field is formidable even though some of the Olympians have retired since Sydney, and the two former Chechen fighters, heavyweight Tataroglu and -66kg Olympic Gold medallist Ozkan have been refused visas.In addition and very disappointingly, the superstars of the Japanese team have not been allowed to fight, which devalues the event considerably.''We talked with the top officials of the federation to make our decision,'' Japan's men's national team head coach Hitoshi Saito said. ''We decided that there is the possibility that terrorists would strike in retaliation (to the air strikes in Afghanistan).''. However the Koreans have made the trip and the draw is star studded.

The stadium is a sellout and the judo is spectacular. With only 7 fights in each category (4 quarter finals, 2 semi finals and a final) everything takes place on one mat, so the crowd miss nothing. Intriguingly, not one World or Olympic Champion is able to win the event. Many fall in the first round, including Mark Huizinga (NED), Frederic Demontfaucon (FRA) and Britainís only competitor Graeme Randall, who is thrown by the young unknown Russian Alexei Shershnev. Most unexpected is the first round exit of the -73kg World Champion Vitali Makarov, in front of his home crowd, to the Brazilian Sergio Oliveira.

However, even without Makarov the event rapidly becomes a lesson in Russian style judo. Pick ups and supplexes abound and the former Soviet nations take most of the medals, including six of the seven Gold Belts at stake. The finalists make triumphal entries from behind the domes of St Basil,s, down impressive flights of stairs to do battle with each other on the flood lit mat. Rinai Mirzaliev (UKR) pulls off a dramatic last second victory over Islam Matsiev (RUS) in the final of the -66kg, much to the Russian's disgust. World Silver medallist Alexei Budolin (EST) is in excellent form in the -81kg, defeating Nuno Delgado for the title, with World Champion In Chul Cho (KOR) having to settle for Bronze. The seventh Gold Belt goes to the best fighter of the tournament, Olympic Silver medallist, Nicolas Gill of Canada, who puts on a brilliant display to take the -100kg, defeating World Silver medallist Antal Kovacs (HUN) in an exciting final.

But the most eagerly awaited contest turns out to be the last, in the +100 kg, between the new Russian double World Champion Alexendre Mikhaylin and the man whose injury allowed Mikhaylin to take part in both categories in Munich, the Russian Olympic Bronze medallist, Tamerlan Tmenov.

The two superstars of Russian Judo have not fought each other for a couple of years and Tmenov has to re-establish his superiority over his younger more successful rival. To begin with Mikhaylin looks to be in charge but Tmenov unleashes a devastating Maki-komi and the double World Champion is banged over in tremendous style for Ippon to end the tournament.

As Tmenov takes the impressive Gold Belt and the massive trophy, the judo World reflects. Is this the start of something really big? Has our sport finally moved into the professional era? If a fighter can win all three of the planned menís events for 2002 he will end up £30,000 dollars the richer. It is a significant start. But for massive money, top sponsorship and major world wide television coverage to be forthcoming the Japanese men will have to be persuaded to participate. Without their superstars the International Judo Grand Prix will be a largely European circus, but with them on board we could be looking forward to a massive surge of interest in our sport.

SH

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