The second International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Slam of 2017 is set to take place in Baku in Azerbaijan this weekend at the Heydar Aliev Arena with home competitors confident of winning medals.
It was confirmed today that 183 judoka, 110 men and 73 women, are set to compete in the city that will play host to the 2018 IJF World Championships.
The official draw took place today and was conducted by Vladimir Barta, the IJF's head sports director.
Hopes will be high among the host nation in the men's competitions with Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Orkhan Safarov the one to beat in the men’s under-60 kilograms.
World number two Safarov could provide the perfect start for the hosts on day one if he can repeat his 2014 home success.
Azerbaijan's Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Nijat Shikhalizada is expected to be a strong force in the under-66kg category on day one.
Knocked out in the third round at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the 29-year-old has won medals at all the previous Baku Grand Slams and starts as the top seed.
He won gold in 2015, silver in 2013 and bronze in 2012.
Hopes among the hosts are also high in the under-100kg event where Rio 2016 silver medallist Elmar Gasimov and his compatriot, former world champion Elkhan Mammadov, are both set to compete.
Gasimov narrowly beat Mammadov to Olympic selection and both Azeri stars will be expected to challenge for medals on home soil.
They will face competition from Dusseldorf Grand Prix bronze medallist Michael Korrel of The Netherlands and the gold medallist in the German city, Belgium's Toma Nikiforov.
Triple world champion and double Olympic medallist Yuri Alvear of Colombia is set to return to action this weekend for the first time since taking silver at Rio 2016.
The 30-year-old, who also won bronze at London 2012, is the number one seed in the women's under-70kg category.
Alvear's biggest threat may come in the form of 20-year-old Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Elvismar Rodriguez of Venezuela.
The world number seven is already a four-time Grand Slam bronze medallist, but Alvear has won all four of their meetings to date.
World number 12 Alice Schlesinger of Great Britain will be hoping to retain the under-63kg gold medal she won in Baku last year.
Schlesinger is the most experienced and accomplished judoka in the category in Baku.
However, she does face competition from Turkey's Busra Katipoglu who took bronze in Baku last year and is tipped to reach the medal positions once again.
The 25-year-old is making her first start since Rio 2016 where she was eliminated by eventual silver medallist Clarisse Agbegnenou of France in the second round.
The season-opening Paris Grand Slam at the AccorHotels Arena in February was the first Grand Slam to be held under the updated set of rules.
The adapted laws for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle were revealed in December.
Among the revised regulations is the scrapping of the yuko evaluation of technique points, leaving only ippon and waza-ari.
As part of the rule changes, the value of waza-ari includes that given for yuko in the past, while the waza-ari does not add up and two waza-ari is no longer the equivalent of ippon.
For immobilisations, waza-ari has been shortened to 10 seconds from 15 and ippon remains as 20.
Furthermore, there are now three shido penalties, instead of the previous four.
Leg grabbing or grabbing the trousers is first penalised by shido and secondly by a hansoku-make disqualification.
The IJF said in December its goal is "to promote the rules of judo and make them easier to understand, as well as to simplify them", adding "the purpose of these rules is to give priority to the attack and to the realisation of ippon".
Action begins tomorrow and concludes on Sunday (March 12).
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