- Id: 55145
France tops judo medal table after final day fightback
- "Individual failure gave us extra motivation" says final day match-winner Loic PIETRI
- Germany take home 11 judo medals
The contrast between France's efforts in individual and team competitions at the Heydar Aliyev Arena, where the European Games judo doubled up as the 2015 European Championships, could not have been greater. There was a series of disappointments in the individual events but, on a sensational last day, spectacular glory in the team contests.
French judoka won six titles at last year's European titles hosted in Montpelier. One of them, Teddy RINER, is injured but the other five travelled to Baku to defend their titles where only Emilie ANDEOL in the women's +78kg succeeded.
Of the other French contenders, Loic KORVAL won a -66kg silver and Clarisse AGBEGNENOU a -63kg bronze, but Automne PAVIA (-57kg) and Audrey TCHEUMEO (-78kg) both lost quarterfinals to finish fifth.
But on Sunday those results were forgotten as France enjoyed stunning victories in both team finals. Their women won four bouts in succession, three of them by ippon within 15 seconds, to defeat Germany 4-1.
"For some of us, including me, it was a kind of revenge for the individual event," AGBEGNENOU said. "I made an error in the individual event, but I came back in the team."
The men then won their first three contests against a Georgia team that featured two individual gold medallists. After the first women's bout against Germany, no French judoka lost in either final. The only point France subsequently conceded was when one of their men withdrew from a 'dead' bout, with the gold already won.
KORVAL made up for his individual defeat by beating Amiran PAPINASHVILI by ippon, then Pierre DUPRAT won an epic encounter against Nugzari TATALASHVILI. The third match was also close, and Loic PIETRI was so exhausted after beating Avtandili TCHRIKISHVILI, he could barely celebrate.
PIETRI said, "Nobody was very satisfied with their result in the (individual) championship and we said 'Let's go for it.' That gave us an extra push."
Those two gold medals took France to the top of the judo table with three gold, two silver and three bronze ahead of Russia (3 gold, 1 silver, 6 bronze). Germany won only one gold but had an impressive haul of 11 medals (four silver and six bronze) which was just reward for their intense preparations.
All sessions were well supported, just like the wrestling and sambo at the Heydar Aliyev Arena.
Lukas KRPALEK (CZE) v Elkhan MAMMADOV (AZE) in men's -100kg elimination round of 16 when three minutes into the bout KRPALEK attacked with a uchi-mata, MAMMADOV tried to block it and KRPALEK counter-blocked it into an ippon for o-uchi-gari.
There was plenty of noise at the Heydar Aliyev Arena throughout the four days, but it reached new levels when Ilham ZAKIYEV (AZE) won the visually impaired +90kg gold medal. ZAKIYEV is a national hero, a double Paralympic and world champion who lost his sight when on duty for the Azerbaijan army. His contest was watched by President Ilham Aliyev, who presented the medals and briefly stood on the podium with ZAKIYEV before the gold medallist roared out the national anthem in a highly emotional scene.
Kamal KHAN MAGOMEDOV, Russian gold medallist in -66kg, on how he became a judoka:
"In our city we didn't know what judo was, we were thinking it was karate. So we went to karate, but it was judo."
Elmar GASIMOV, Azerbaijan's world No2 in the men's -100kg, was expected to reach the final. A full house at Heydar Aliyev Arena came to cheer him on, only to be stunned into silence when GASIMOV lost to a brilliant ippon from Portugal's Jorge FONSECA in the elimination round of 16. FONSECA would later lose his bronze medal match to Toma NIKIFOROV (ROU).
Most deserving winner
Kirill DENISOV (RUS), men's -90kg
In the quarterfinals, semifinals and final DENISOV respectively faced the world No3, No2 and No1 judoka in his class, and beat all of them to take gold.
"This is a very, very tough weight category," DENISOV said. "It was a very high standard competition and I was very pleased with my performance."
The men he beat were 2004 Olympic champion Ilias ILIADIS (GRE), world junior champion Krisztian TOTH (HUN) and Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO), twice a European champion.