Who to Watch at Paris Grand Slam
Every judoka remembers their first Paris tournament. Whatever the latest batch of newcomers go on to achieve in the sport, they will always savour the first time they walked out in front of 15,000 judo lovers in the French capital.
The 2017 crop is extra significant as this year’s event sees a new beginning with the launch of a new Olympic cycle towards Tokyo 2020. Some of the names below could conquer the world at the next Olympiad and a few should even challenge for honours on their Paris debut.
Louis Krieber Gagnon (CAN)
Weight category: -90kg
Best results: Taipei Asian Open silver (2016), Cadet World champion (2013)
Former Cadet World Championships winner Louis Krieber Gagnon (CAN) made his IJF World Judo Tour bow in 2015 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. The 20-year-old Canadian then waited over a year for another chance to test himself against the best when he fought at the Tokyo Grand Slam in December 2016. Krieber Gagnon, who lost to French star Alexandre Iddir in the second round in Tokyo, looks set for his first full season of IJF World Judo Tour action and has the tools to live up to Judo Canada’s high expectations for him over the course of the new Olympic cycle.
Anna Maria Wagner (GER)
Weight category: -78kg
Best results: Abu Dhabi Grand Slam silver (2016), Junior European Championships winner (2016)
Abu Dhabi Grand Slam silver medallist Anna Maria Wagner (GER) took a notable fifth-place at the Tokyo Grand Slam and has adjusted well to life on judo’s elite stage. The German youngster will become a key member of her national team in 2017 and Grand Prix and further honours seem to be on the horizon. The experience of two Grand Slams in the second half of 2016 will give Wagner a degree of familiarity with the feeling and demands of one of the IJF’s blockbuster events and the confidence to go out and compete against the best of the best. The Paris tournament, however, is one of a kind and the atmosphere and scale is truly unique. A heady mixture of nerves and excitement will evaporate if Wagner can come through her first contest with a win.
David Tekic (GER)
Weight category: -90kg
Best results: Madrid Open winner (2016), Junior European Championships silver (2015)
Madrid European Open winner David Tekic (GER) will make his IJF World Judo Tour debut at one of the circuit’s most prestigious events. Tekic has Junior European medals to his name and this weekend is all about the experience for the young Germany judoka. A baptism of fire it may be, but Tekic will be looking to take as much as he can from the weekend and the post-event training camp as he looks to step up to senior level with the Olympic qualification period set to begin in 2018.
Here are some top names to look out for in this weekend’s action:
Larissa Farias (BRA)
Weight category: -48kg
Best results: Junior Pan-American Championships winner (2016)
Brazil looks set to reinvigorate their ageing team with the introduction of some juniors with untapped potential. While many of their elder statesman will continue competing for the immediate future, a sprinkling of youth will go a long way to generate some new energy and intrigue around one of the sport’s powerhouse nations following Rio 2016. Junior Pan-American Championships winner Larissa Farias (BRA) is one such talent and the -48kg judoka has the opportunity to fill the number one spot left vacant by former Olympic champion Sarah Menezes (BRA), who has moved up to -52kg.
Abe Hifumi (JPN)
Weight category: -66kg
Best results: Tokyo Grand Slam winner (2014 & 2016), Nanjing 2014 YOG winner
Boy wonder Abe Hifumi (JPN) is already the most famous teenage athlete in Japan as one of the faces of his country’s Tokyo 2020 promotions. The two-time Grand Slam winner has deliberately been held back by Japanese head coach Inoue Kosei, who has been loyal to his veteran judoka and patient with this 2020 generation waiting anxiously to be released onto the IJF World Judo Tour. World number six Abe starts as one of the favourites in France and will surely earn selection for his first World Championships if he can medal in Paris in his first attempt.