Puumalainen stunts again with European title
The Senior European Championships 2023, held in Montpellier in the south of France, came to an end on Sunday. The last final block of the competition began with the -90kg category. The public witnessed a strong final between current Olympic champion Lasha Bekauri (GEO), who was clearly the favourite, and former world champion, Nemanja Majdov (SRB). Winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam a week ago, Majdov brought the same energy and will into the European Championships. This was his third attempt to take the senior title, but his first victory, following two junior European titles, in 2014 and 2016.
For the Olympic champion, it was his second opportunity to become continental champion. In 2021 his European gold offered him a chance to go to the Olympic Games at the expense of Beka Gviniashvili. Two years have passed and Bekauri now faces a challenge from another teammate, Luka Maisuradze, the current world champion. Bekauri, like Majdov, also has two junior titles.
If nothing noteworthy happened during normal time, the final began to get exciting after two minutes of golden score, when Majdov looked stronger, exploding with a seoi-otoshi and scoring ippon for the title.
Next up was the -78kg weight division with defending European champion Alina Boehm (GER) defeating current world champion Inbar Lanir (ISR) in the quarter-final. She looked set for a great triumph today, but in her way was the world number one, Alice Bellandi (ITA), who was looking for her first senior title in a major championship.
At first in the final, it looked like Bellandi was the stronger judoka as she was dominating Boehm and even if nothing was scored, she had the contest in her hands. Golden score was fast approaching when the German judoka scored an unexpected waza-ari with o-uchi-gari. This was not Bellandi’s day for the title but it was Boehm’s again, for a second consecutive European title.
Georgia’s second hope of a gold medal today was world number one Ilia Sulamanidze, who up until the final block had a straightforward day but the same could also be said for his opponent, Zelym Kotsoiev (AZE). The final was billed as an explosive prospect and it was! Eventually, Sulamanidze attacked with o-soto-gari but Kotsoiev counter-attacked and scored ippon to win a second gold medal for his team.
If the public came in large numbers on day 3, it was to watch all the athletes of course but especially the French +78kg superstar, Romane Dicko, who was competing for her fourth senior European title. Last year’s final was against Raz Hershko (ISR) and so was it in 2023 as well. There was not really a question in the rematch though, as with the crowd supporting her strongly, the outcome was the same.
Against the first attack from Hershko, her trademark seoi-nage, Dicko didn’t move but then in the following exchange the French judoka launched a massive o-soto-gari that offered no opportunity to escape for Hershko. Ippon it was after only 33 seconds.
The last final of the day and of the event was greatly anticipated, in the +100kg category. Former world and European champion, Guram Tushishvili (GEO) faced the rising star from Finland, who took the IJF World Judo Masters title this year, Martti Puumalainen. This was Georgia’s final opportunity to take a gold medal. Tushishvili was the first to action, scoring a waza-ari with uchi-mata but Puumalainen, undeterred, came back just before the gong with a powerful ko-uchi-gari. Maybe Tushishvili will have to think about the next sequence. A little too enthusiastic he offered an opportunity for Puumalainen to score again with a spinning uchi-mata for waza-ari. This outstanding contest concludes an unforgettable year for the Finnish champion.
In the end, France as the hosts finished on top of the medal tally with five gold medals, followed by Azerbaijan and Serbia.