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Judoka prepare for return to mat at Baku Grand Prix

Date: May 23, 2021

Category: Judo

Judoka from around the world are arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the first International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Judo competition since January 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of multiple competitions last year, just before the final qualifiers for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games were due to take place.

Now around 200 athletes will step back onto the mat again as they go for crucial world ranking points from 25-26 May.

The competition will be shown live on the IBSA Judo website from 10am (GMT+4) each day.

Results will also be available.

Amongst a host of Paralympic champions and medallists competing in Baku are the Mexican duo of Lenia Ruvalcaba and Eduardo Avila.

Ruvalcaba will renew her old rivalry with Brazil’s Alana Maldonado. Over the years the pair have faced each other in many finals, including at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, in the women’s up to 70kg. It was Ruvalcaba who won in Rio and at their last meeting at the IBSA Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA.

However Maldonado is the reigning world champion after the Mexican was beaten by Uzbekistan’s Vasila Aliboeva before she could get to the gold medal match in 2018. Aliboeva will also compete in Baku.

Sharing her thoughts on getting back to competition on Instagram just before leaving for Azerbaijan, Ruvalcaba said: “With lots of feelings, excitement, nerves and more nerves [I am] starting the journey after more than a year of not competing.”

Paralympic title holder Avila executed a stunning comeback from a severe back injury in Fort Wayne, taking gold in the men’s up to 81kg.

Ukraine’s Rio 2016 silver medallist Dmytro Solovey will not be making things easy for the Mexican. Neither will France’s World Championships bronze medallist Nathan Petit, who has emerged as a strong contender since making his debut in 2018.

Canada’s Priscilla Gagne has also moved up the rankings following her fifth-place Paralympic debut in 2016. Impressive performances at the Pan-American Championships, Worlds and Grand Prix helped place her as the current top-ranked fighter from the region in the women’s up to 52kg, and second overall.

However Ukraine’s Paralympic champion Inna Synch (nee Cherniak) is always a force to be reckoned with in the category.

Current world No.1 and Paralympic bronze medallist Alex Bologa of Romania will be keen to return to competition in the men’s up to 60kg. Bologa’s judo is much-admired by his opponents and their coaches alike and he has proved difficult to beat in the last cycle.

The 2021 IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku is one of two qualifiers left for Tokyo 2020. The final chance for judoka to secure their tickets to Japan will be in Warwick, Great Britain, at a Grand Prix from 19-20 June.

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