April 22, 2014 (ISN) -Some of the world’s top judo stars including Olympic and world champions will descend on Montpellier this week for the European Championships.
Georgia and the Netherlands are the defending men’s and women’s team champions respectively after topping the medal table in Budapest last year.
The Georgians will head to Montpellier with a strong line-up once again, led by reigning Olympic champion Lasha Shavdatuashvili who will be out to claim the under 73 kilogram title after taking the under 66kg crown last year.
Team-mates Zebeda Rekhviashvili and Nugzar Talalashvilli will be threats to the 22-year-old, while reigning champion Rok Draksic of Slovenia will not relinquish his crown without a major fight.
Avtandil Tchrikishvili is the returning under 81kg champion and will face stiff competition from team-mate Levan Tsiklauri and last year’s runner-up Tomo Marijanovic of Croatia.
French hopes will lie with reigning world champion Loic Pietri and World Championship bronze medallist Alain Schmitt.
With Shavdatuashvili’s absence from the under 66kg class, home favourites David Larose and Loic Korval will be looking to capitalise and feed off the fans support inside the 10,000 capacity Park & Suites Arena.
Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan and Ukraine’s Georgii Zantaraia will both be expected to feature in the medal shake-up after impressive recent performances.
With the absence of defending under 90kg champion Kirill Denisov, Georgia will also be favourite to take that title in the form of world and European silver medallist Varlam Liparteliani, with team-mate Zviadi Gogotchuri considered a dark horse for a medal, while bronze medal winner from last year, Karolis Bauža of Lithuania, will be expected to go far.
Olympic champion Arsen Galstyan of Russia will start the under 60kg competition as the man to beat but will have to overcome 2012 champion and compatriot Beslan Mudranov, with defending champion, Georgia’s Amiran Papinashvili, also determined to hold on to his crown.
Defending world champion Elkhan Mammadov of Azerbaijan and current European title holder Lukas Krpalek of Czech Republic will battle it out for under 100kg honours, where France’s Cyrille Maret, German Karl-Richard Frey and European under-23 champion Jose Fonseca of Portugal will be dangerous opponents.
In the over 100kg competition, the irrepressible Frenchman Teddy Riner will raise the roof when he takes to the tatami.
The Olympic champion and multiple world champion will be aiming for a fourth European crown in Montpellier and his biggest obstacles are likely to come from London 2012 runner-up Alexandr Mikhailine of Russia and Georgians Adam Okruashvili and Levani Matiashvili.
On the women’s side, reigning under 48kg champion Eva Csernoviczki of Hungary is expected to come close to retaining her title, with the most difficult opposition expected to come from Ukrainian Maryna Chernyak and young prospects such as Dilara Lokmanhekim of Turkey and Spain’s Julia Figueroa.
Albanian Majlinda Kelmendi is the world champion at under 52kg and will be expected to add European gold to her collection, although Germans Mareen Kraeh and Romy Tarangul, and Italian pair Rosalba Forciniti and last year’s bronze medallist Odette Giuffrida, will be a threat along with Israeli Gili Cohen.
The Netherlands’ Marhinde Verkerk will be hoping to finally end her run without a European title in Montpellier ©AFP/Getty Images
The under 57kg class looks like a straight shoot-out between reigning champion Automne Pavia of France, Portugal’s four-time European champion Telma Monteiro and Corina Caprioriu of Romania, a former champion and an Olympic silver medal winner.
Competition in the under 63kg field looks fierce also with home favourite Clarisse Agbegnenou, who is the defending champion and World Championship runner-up, up against the likes of reigning world champion Yarden Gerbi of Israel and up-and-coming stars Kathrin Unterwurzacher of Austria, Dutchwoman Anicka van Emden and Germany’s Martyna Trajdos.
Marhinde Verkerk of the Netherlands will be out to finally end her European title drought in the 78kg class, with the 28-year-old yet to taste continental success despite taking the World Championship crown in 2009.
Her task will not be an easy one though, as she is likely to have to overcome reigning European champion Lucie Louette and London 2012 bronze medallist Audrey Tcheumeo, both of who will be urged on by the home crowd.
The 2014 European Judo Championships get underway on Thursday (April 24) and are scheduled to last until Sunday (April 27).
Display photo: Arsen Galstyan will be another London 2012 gold medallist in action at the Park & Suites Arena ©Getty Images