And in the women’s competition, it was Jessica Klimkait of Canada who came here to stake her claim as number one in her country for the upcoming Worlds. She came up against World Silver Medalist Nekoda Smythe-Davies of Great Britain in the semis and caught her with a driving ouchi gari, to become our Woman of the Day.
In the final, Klimkait defeated Paris Grand Slam bronze medallist Momo Tamaoki of Japan for the second time to win the -57kg gold medal in Zagreb.
Mr Jan Snijders, Head Refereeing Director of the International Judo Federation awarded Klimkait her medal.
“Yeah so it’s a super nice feeling, like having this kind of day like only a month before Worlds. Every competition that I went into, I’ve been looking for the kind of feeling that I felt today. So to be able to do that just four weeks away from Worlds, it’s a good feeling,” said Jessica Klimkait in an interview.
Our Man of the Day was Spain’s Alberto Gaitero Martin. In the -66kg final he took on the man on form, Baku and Paris Grand Slam Champion Denis Vieru, and used an incredible seoi nage attack to shock the Moldovan and score an absolutely emphatic ippon, earning him his first ever IJF World Tour Gold.
He was awarded his medal by Mr Mohammed Meridja, IJF Education and Coaching Director.
“Well, before the fight I had in my mind that I would attack with ippon seoi nage, and in the middle of the match I found the perfect moment and went for it,” said Alberto Gaitero Martin in an interview.
Elsewhere in the men’s competition, Marrakech Grand Prix winner Sharafuddin Lutfillaev of Uzbekistan rescued the -60kg final in the closing seconds after Antalya Grand Prix bronze medallist Ashley McKenzie of Great Britain was given his marching orders for his third shido. Londoner McKenzie, who is closing in on a place at his third consecutive Olympics in Tokyo next year, was on the verge of his first IJF gold medal – on his 37th attempt on the Grand Prix stage alone – with a waza-ari advantage before letting the world-class Uzbek back into the final and with 15 seconds remaining he was passive and was disqualified to his bitter disappointment.
In the women’s competition, Natsumi Tsunoda of Japan put on a confident display in the -52kg final against South Korea’s Park Da Sol. A traditional sacrifice technique, tomoe nage, earned her the decisive score of the contest, waza-ari, and crowned her 2019 Zagreb Grand Prix Champion.
Her gold win helped Japan top the medals standings at the end of the first day’s competition.
Meanwhile, at -48kg, Kazakhstan’s Otgontsetseg Galbadrakh and France’s Melanie Clement, two fighters who have previously defeated the current World Champion Daria Bilodid of the Ukraine, were in Zagreb to stake their claim as the main contender to take the upcoming World title. It was an incredible clash, both fighters scoring, taking the contest deep into golden score. Eventually the Olympic and World medallist dug deep to overcome the French judoka with a clever counter, to take the gold medal in Zagreb. The question now is can she take this momentum to Tokyo?
Mr Vladimir Barta, IJF Head Sport Director, awarded Galbadrakh her medal.
Moves of the Day
Denis Vieru, the silver medallist at -66kg gave us our Moves of the Day.
First, a beautifully simple footsweep, de ashi barai, and then a dramatic and dynamic moment of power and determination that scored two phenomenal ippons. Two contrasting throws from the emerging Moldovan talent, setting the Grand Prix in Zagreb off to an explosive start.