An eight-strong British squad takes to the mat at the first Grand Prix of 2017 in Dusseldorf from Friday 24 to Sunday 26 February.
The Mitsubishi Electric Halle is the venue for another world-class field of judoka and with the increased ranking points and new rules being trialled, there’s a real chance for the British fighters to move up the rankings.
Since the first Dusseldorf Grand Prix in 2010, six British judoka have medalled at the event with Gemma Gibbons and Alice Schlesinger both topping the podium in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Last year Schlesinger yet again made the final but lost out to Rio Olympic Champion Tina Trstenjak (SLO) while Nekoda Davis beat two top ten judoka as she won bronze.
On Friday Kim Renicks (-48kg) and Ashley McKenzie (-60kg) will get things started in the lightweight categories with the Scottish judoka coming in off the back of a solid showing at the Oberwart European Open last week. The Commonwealth Games Champion is in a strong field with three of the World Top 10 entered. Seventh seed Noa Minsker (ISR) is her first match-up of the day with the 23 year old a Grand Prix medallist in Zagreb last year.
McKenzie will be aiming for his best finish at Dusseldorf this year having missed out on a top eight finish to date. The British judoka goes in as the eighth seed and will face Colombia’s John Futtinico in the first round. The -60kg category is as strong as expected with 2015 World Champion Yeldos Smetov as top seed though Dutch Junior European Champion Tornike Tsjakadoea will also be one to keep an eye out for.
Saturday will see Lucy Renshall (-63kg), Amy Livesey (-63kg) and Aaron Turner (-73kg) in action with all three making their Dusseldorf debuts. Schlesinger was initially entered into the tournament at -63kg but had to withdraw due to injury. Renshall has replaced her, coming in off the back of her fifth place at the Paris Grand Slam a fortnight ago. The St Helens fighter has a bye and will face the winner of Kamila Badurova (RUS) and Andreja Leski (SLO).
Livesey will be better for blowing the cobwebs out in Oberwart last week and will be looking to make up ground on her fellow SKK judoka with a good showing in Dusseldorf. She takes on Brazil’s Ketleyn Quadros in the first round with the winner facing Matyna Trajdos (GER). Olympic champion Trstenjak (SLO) will be looking to continue her unbeaten run having taken gold in Paris with a day of a stellar judo though there are plenty of younger judoka aiming to make their name.
Meanwhile the -73kg category is as strong as ever with Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO) the standout name though Sweden’s Tommy Macias enjoyed a strong 2016 including a win over Rustam Orujov (AZE) in Abu Dhabi. Turner has World No.20 Tohar Butbul (ISR) in his first round match.
Last but not least on Sunday we have Natalie Powell (-78kg), Max Stewart (-90kg) and Ben Fletcher (-100kg) hoping to end things in Dusseldorf on a high. Powell and Fletcher have only recently returned to full competition with the Welsh judoka finishing seventh in Paris while the Bath athlete picked up bronze at the Rome Continental Open last week.
Powell goes in as top seed with Abigel Joo (HUN) and Madeleine Malonga (FRA) among the challengers. Dutch judoka Larissa Groenwold will be her first opponent of the day.
Stewart came fifth two weeks ago on his Paris debut and will have a rematch against home fighter David Tekic in the first round. Watch out for Georgian duo Beka Gviniashvili, back down from -100kg, and Avtandili Tchrikishvili, who continues his jump up from -81kg.
Fletcher meanwhile goes in as eight seed and will take on Aibek Serikbayev (KAZ) in his first match. Home judoka Karl-Richard Frey will be sure to have a lot of the crowd behind him though unseeded Japanese fighter Aaron Wolf will be a threat.
GB Elite Performance Coach Kate Howey said:
“Again this tournament is about the youngsters getting out and fighting in the big competitions with older athletes including three Olympians in the mix as well. The draws are OK on the whole and there are chances of medals as long as the players give their best performances.”