First victory in Paris for Anna-Maria Wagner counts
Germany’s 2021 world champion Anna-Maria Wagner has had a very strong day U78kg at the Grand Slam in Paris, most notably securing the win against her domestic opposition, Boehm, in the quarter-final. This could be an important moment in the race to the Paris Games.
In the final against the strong Alice Bellandi of Italy each athlete knew the dangers presented by the other but both attacked, both aimed to win but, of course, there was also an element of not wanting to lose and that always adds a new dynamic, one that is difficult to manage. In normal time each collected two penalties. The most positive attacks came from Wagner but on the ground with her very fast transition to the shime-waza. Bellandi only barely escaped them.
In golden score there was a small slip from Bellandi with her grabbing the skirt of Wagner’s jacket and there was no choice but to award her the third and most decisive shido. Neither judoka wanted that ending as it was a great fight in which both had the feeling of impending satisfaction. However they concluded with the most mutually respectful hug, clear appreciation of each other’s ability.
The bronze medal contests could have matched any number of different predictions at the beginning of the day but the first was to be between Inbar Lanir and Guusje Steenhuis (NED). The Dutchwoman had an outstanding day all the way to the final block despite a loss in the semi-final to Bellandi. She threw Natalie Powell (GBR) in round one and Audrey Tcheumeo in the quarter-final with soto-makikomi, taking out Kuka (KOS) in between.
Steenhuis may not have been expected to win against Lanir who has been in devastating form since her world championship win in May last year but working hard on the analysis side of judo can pay dividends and Steenhuis has certainly done that. Lanir has become a master of the pick-up and most have no way to avoid meeting the mat that way but Steenhuis had her plan and it worked. She was picked up, as expected, but pushed off the mat to change direction while hooking inside with the other foot. Once airborne Lanir had no way to take back control of the movement and the Dutch judoka landed squarely on top of her to take an excellent Paris bronze.
The second bronze medal was decided between Malonga and Kantsvaya and it was the Frenchwoman who came out on top. She threw for ippon with a massive makikomi, leaving nothing to chance.
Current world champion Inbar Lanir (ISR) started the day at the top of the draw sheet, perhaps a prestigious location but also one which comes with a big target, one that is placed squarely on her back.
Lanir managed her first fight well but couldn’t sustain it and against an onslaught of well prepared tactics, particularly in the gripping phases, resisting even her most powerful openings, she lost against Kantsavaya (AIN). It’s not a pleasant feeling to lose but her real focus is the Olympic Games and this result will not deter her from her path to the fun and Games of this coming summer.
A little further down the draw and 2015 world champion Mami Umeki (JPN) was expected to do well but she was thrown for ippon with a ko-soto-gake by 20 year old u23 European champion Yuliia Kurchenko (UKR) after only half a minute of contest time. This is Paris and to expect the unexpected comes with the territory.
Olympic champion and 2018 world champion Shori Hamada (JPN) was one of the favourites of the day but anyone presented with Italian powerhouse Alice Bellandi will be under pressure from the first ‘hajime.’ Hamada certainly was and Bellandi wasted no time in throwing her for ippon.
In the same pool, Madeleine Malonga was there to energise the crowd but the 2019 world champion also lost out to the Italian and had to settle for a spot in the repechage. That was not a place in which she hoped to find herself, especially in Paris and even more so when 2011 world champion and domestic rival for the Olympic selection Audrey Tcheumeo also dropped into the repechage.
In a sea of world champions, world number two, not yet a world champion, Alice Bellandi eliminated two of them on her way to the final, where she would face a third, Wagner with the German as winner in this strong category.
Germany’s duel U78kg was not a simple fight but a huge nomination for the Olympic Games. Wagner came out on top this time but Boehm is European champion. It was the same for the French; it’s not just a head-to-head inside the French team but it’s for prestige at home and also impacts the Olympic qualification, which in this category is not yet decided.