What to Follow on Day 2 of the Abu Dhabi World Championships / IJF.org

The Abu Dhabi World Championships got off to a flying start on Day 1 in the Emirati capital. Three first-time world champions were crowned at the Mubadala Arena in the -48kg, -52kg and -60kg categories. Here we look ahead to the second day of competition, when the athletes in the -57kg, -66kg and -73kg categories will have their shot at global glory, and pick out some of the key competitors to look out for.

Jessica Klimkait vs Christa Deguchi in the final of the Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam 2023

-57kg: Deguchi and Klimkait Braced for Final Showdown
It all comes down to this! After two years of being inseparable at the top of the Olympic ranking list, Canada’s Christa Deguchi and Jessica Klimkait will both make their final cases for Olympic selection. Like the previous qualification cycle for Tokyo 2020, the result here may well decide who will go to Paris 2024. Back then, Deguchi fell at the final hurdle and Klimkait went on to take bronze in Tokyo. This time, however, Deguchi leads by 1000 points in the Olympic rankings, so Klimkait must get to the final if she is to have any hope of going to a second Games.

With the form that both judoka are in, it’s somewhat difficult to imagine anyone else answering the final. So far this year, Deguchi has won five grand slam medals, including three golds, while Klimkait has earned one medal of each color in the same period. Neither is unstoppable; there are plenty of athletes who could cause an upset and crush the Olympic dreams of one or both of them.

France’s Faiza Mokdar defeated both of them on her way to gold at the Paris Grand Slam 2024, while Japan’s Momo Tamaoki has chalked up three wins over each of them in her career. Double grand slam and grand prix winner Mimi Huh (KOR) has also had the best of Klimkait in the past but there are numerous other athletes who will have their eyes on the orize and who could spoil the party for either. We are in for one top notch finale.

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Medalists from the Heydar Aliyev Baku Grand Slam 2023. (LR) Takeshi Takeoka (JPN), Yashar Najafov (AZE), David Garcia Torne (ESP), Denis Vieru (MDA). All four will compete in Abu Dhabi.

-66kg: Will We Have the First Non-Japanese Champion since 2015?
The -66kg title at the world championships has been shared between the Japanese superstars Hifumi Abe and Joshiro Maruyama for the past six editions of the event, stretching all the way back to 2017. With both of them absent from the Japanese team selection for the 2024 event, there is a very real chance that Japan will have to relinquish the title in Abu Dhabi.

Nothing is guaranteed, however, as their entrants, Ryoma Tanaka and Takeshi Takeoka, are no pushovers. The former was the winner of the 2023 Hungary Masters and the latter took gold at the Paris Grand Slam 2024, defeating Maruyama in the final.

The top seed is the world number one Denis Vieru (MDA), who already has two world bronze medals to his name, and who became senior European champion for the first time in 2023. The 2024 Asian champion Erkhembayar Battogtokh (MGL) comes in as the number two seed, and the number six seed and Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Vazha Margvelashvili (GEO) will also be keen to add a first world title to his collection. Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist Baul An (KOR) was the last non-Japanese world champion back in 2015, but he hasn’t topped a World Judo Tour podium in more than 3 years.

The -66kg category is brimming with talent and so many athletes, including those named above, have the potential to become world champion. So, will the title remain with Japan for another year or will another country be able to break their streak?

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Hidayat Heydarov (AZE) celebrates winning gold at the Tokyo Grand Slam 2023

-73kg: The Time is Now for Heydarov
Azerbaijan’s Hidayat Heydarov is in the form of his life. The world number one recently won his third European title in a row and fourth overall, and has topped the podium in each of his last three grand slams. He is already a 3-time senior world bronze medalist, but if he is to ever become world champion, 2024 might be his year. That is, of course, easier said than done.

Much like the -66kg category, any number of athletes could potentially challenge for that coveted title. Defending champion Nils Stump (SUI) returns to the world championships in good form, having cruised to gold at the Dushanbe Grand Slam two weeks ago. World and Olympic champion Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO) can never be ruled out and neither can world and Olympic bronze medalist Daniel Cargnin (BRA). The Uzbeks Shakhram Ahadov and Murodjon Yuldoshev are both dangerous too.

Heydarov will face the toughest test of his career so far if he is to reach the dizzy heights of world champion status, but all the signs suggest that this will finally be his year. Can anyone stop him?

Get the answers to all these questions and so much more: watch the second day of competition live at JudoTV.com or on the JudoTV app, from 10:30 local time on Monday 20th May.

 
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