Emotions at Budokan: Golds for Azerbaijan, Algeria, Uzbekistan
Date: August 27, 2021
The opening day of judo at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games delivered emotional scenes inside the hallowed walls of the Nippon Budokan on Friday (27 August).
Dreams were made and ended on the tatami as Azerbaijan claimed two golds, whilst Algeria and Uzbekistani judoka also enjoyed the top step of the podium.
Full results and coverage can be found the IBSA Judo website.
Pictures are available to download for editorial use here.
Women’s up to 48kg
A brutal clash between women’s up to 52kg Paralympic champion Sandrine Martinet of France and Azerbaijan’s Shahana Hajiyeva saw an emotional end as Hajiyeva emerged the victor.
Both women came very close to landing the decisive blow but neither could find the definitive edge. Hajiyeva did manage a point but her lead was fragile.
With 22 seconds to save her Paralympic title, Martinet turned up the heat. At four seconds left on the clock, the referee stopped the match and called for a video review before awarding Martinet with a point for her previous move. Hajiyeva looked mortified and had to face the Golden Score.
The 21-year-old Azeri had to find something. As Martinet refused to give up without a fight, Hajiyeva was awarded the ippon after another video review for turning the Frenchwoman. Martinet appeared heartbroken whilst Hajiyeva wrapped herself in her country’s flag.
“I’m very happy to be a Paralympic champion at this young age,” Hajiyeva said.
“I always had hopes for that and I knew that if I put everything into coming here, I will put my everything to go to the top after this. There was no other way but that.
“This will always be a motivation for me and I believe that I would be able to repeat it and I really want to repeat it in the Paris  Paralympics as well.”
Martinet, despite her initial upset, later felt more optimistic: “It’s so great to have this kind of medal in my life. I love it. I’m very proud. I was competing in a different (weight) category. It’s a difficult challenge, it’s a great day.
“Even though my children were not waiting for this one, it will be so beautiful for them.”
Russian Paralympic Committee’s (RPC) Viktoriia Potapova collected her latest Paralympic medal with bronze. Potapova showed her experience with an excellent choke hold on Chinese Taipei’s Kai Lin Lee.
“This is my third bronze. It took a lot of hard work to get here, not even four years, but five years. It was a very difficult time, not just for me, but for everyone” Potapova said, referencing the long days away from her daughter as she trained for Tokyo 2020.
“I really wanted gold, I so badly wanted gold, but it was destined to be bronze and that’s a sign that we need to compete for gold at Paris  and further.”
Having beaten China’s defending Paralympic champion for a place in the bronze medal match, London 2012 silver medallist Lee Lin just missed a return to the podium.
The second bronze went to Ukraine’s Yuliia Ivanytska for her third Paralympic medal.
Men’s up to 66kg
Uzbekistan’s Uchkun Kuranbaev’s match with Spain’s Sergio Ibanez went to Golden Score before the Uzbek managed just to tip the scales in his favour.
The gold is Kuranbaev’s first major medal and his country’s first of Tokyo 2020.
The men’s up to 66kg featured a delighted home crowd following a fantastic ippon for Japanese 21-year-old Yujiro Seto to win bronze.
Azerbaijan’s Namig Abasli secured the second bronze against Ukraine’s Paralympic bronze medallist Davyd Khorava.
Men’s up to 60kg
Azerbaijan secured a second gold of the afternoon courtesy of Vugar Shirinli.
Shirinli and his opponent Anuar Sariyev of Kazakhstan both held their breath for ippon at various points throughout their match. But it was Shirinli who in the end was rewarded for his efforts with the gold.
“I’m very proud of being here. I did everything I could do. My opponents were also not weak, they were very strong, but thank god I became the champion because I put my all into that.
“This was one of my biggest dreams and I’m very happy to be here because this is a really good motivation for me to plan to participate in the next Paralympics. I have a big desire to be there and to be a champion there as well.”
Turkey’s Recep Citfci claimed the other bronze after beating Venezuela’s Marcos Dennis Blanco.
Blanco had earlier knocked-out Uzbekistan’s Paralympic champion Sherzod Namozov, who then fought his way back to a shot at the podium as a consolation.
It was not to be however as Romania’s Alex Bologa was stood firmly in his way in a bronze-medal match that lasted nearly six minutes, forcing Namozov to become frustrated after an already stressful day.
World No.1 Bologa was himself determined to make-up for missing out on a chance on gold and managed to repeat his bronze-tinged performance from Rio 2016 by holding his nerve. He won by ippon after Namozov was disqualified.
“It was a very tough competition and a very tough period we had beforehand,” Bologa said. “I wanted to succeed to the final and win the category, but I’m very happy with this bronze medal.
“It was very hard to get up after losing the semi-final [against Shirinli] in a golden score in a very hard fight. I was motivated by my coach and by myself to win another medal and to put the crown on this particular five years since Rio.”
Women’s up to 52kg
Algeria’s Cherine Abdellaoui was absolutely delighted with her gold medal in the women’s up to 52kg, improving on her third place from Rio 2016.
The Algerian bettered Canada’s world No.2 and World Championships bronze medallist Priscilla Gagne, managing an ippon. . However Gagne will still be pleased with her first Paralympic medal.
The category also saw heartbreak for Japan as RPC’s Alesia Stepaniuk held Yui Fujiwara down for ippon, and the bronze.
Ukraine’s Nataliya Nikolaychyk beat Germany’s Paralympic silver medallist Ramona Brussig by ippon, repeating her performance from London 2012.
Judo at Tokyo 2020 continues on Saturday (28 August) with the men’s up to 73kg and up to 81kg and the women’s up to 57kg and 63kg.