Azerbaijan’s capital Baku is set to host the final Judo Grand Slam of the Olympic qualification campaign this weekend as the road to Rio 2016 reaches a decisive phase at the Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex.
Scheduled to begin tomorrow, the three-day event will see 449 judoka from 76 countries compete at the second of five annual Grand Slams on the International Judo Federation (IJF) World Judo Tour.
It is the first of three remaining meets in the Olympic qualification phase with 500 points on offer for gold medallists, 300 for runners-up, and 200 for third-place finishers.
The second event is the Almaty Grand Prix from May 13 to 15, followed by the invite-only World Judo Masters in Mexican city Guadalajara from May 27 to 29.
The Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex is Baku’s largest multi-sports venue and was renovated and modernised for the inaugural European Games last year.
On the opening day of action tomorrow, it will play host to the women’s under 48 kilogram, under 52kg and under 57kg categories as well as the men’s under 60kg and under 66kg divisions.
Kazakhstan’s Galbadrakh Otgontsetseg, the top seed in the under 48kg, has won five medals from five competitions this year to storm up to fourth in the world rankings.
The winner of this year’s Paris Grand Slam, Samsun Grand Prix and Asian Championships is likely to face competition from Olympic bronze medallist Eva Csernoviczki of Hungary and European bronze medallist Dilara Lokmanhekim of Turkey.
Brazil’s Erika Miranda, world number three in the women’s under 52kg, has arrived in Baku on the back of winning last week's Pan American Championships in Cuba’s capital Havana.
Miranda is among the favourites for the Olympics and will be hoping to take gold in Baku ahead of the likes of Havana Grand Prix winner Mareen Kraeh of Germany and Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Annabelle Euranie of France.
Chinese Taipei’s Chen-Ling Lien is the top seed in the women's under 57kg category with her Asian Championships bronze medal promoting her to 10th place in the world rankings.
The 28-year-old will be in action alongside former world champion Rafaela Silva of Brazil, as well as the rapidly maturing Briton Nekoda Smythe-Davis and Tbilisi Grand Prix bronze medallist Hedvig Karakas of Hungary.
The men’s under 60kg category could provide the perfect start for the hosts as European silver medallist Orkhan Safarov is the top seed.
Mongolians Amartuvshin Dashdavaa and Boldbaatar Ganbat have been beaten to Rio 2016 by compatriot Tsogtbaatar TsendOchir and will look to put their frustrations behind them with medal-winning displays on day one.
Double world silver medallist Mikhail Pulyaev of Russia leads the way in the men's under 66kg category and is widely considered one of the most likely top seeds to justify that status tomorrow evening.
Pulyaev, winner of the bronze medal at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix in February last time out, is set for a testing day though with world bronze medallist Golan Pollack of Israel and European silver medallist Colin Oates of Britain also in the field.
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