Written by Callum MacLennan on 08. Mar 2024
Photographs by Gabriela Sabau, Emanuele Di Feliciantonio

In our preview for the -66kg category at the Upper Austria Grand Prix 2024, we noted the potential for an exciting all Israeli final between IJF World Tour veterans Baruch Shmailov and Tal Flicker. Unfortunately for Flicker, his day was ended prematurely by Italy’s Cargnelutti in round 2. Shmailov, however, held up his end of the bargain and powered through the preliminaries in dominant fashion.

Final, Baruch Shmailov (ISR) vs Keita Hadano (JPN)

The world number 27 took just one minute to dispatch Postigos (PER) in round 2, throwing his opponent from their knees with hikikomi-gaeshi before quickly transitioning to kami-shiho-gatame to pin his opponent for ippon. In round 3 against Nurkovic (MNE), he needed even less time, throwing the Montenegrin flat on his back with an excellent uchi-mata just 20 seconds into the contest.

A stiffer test awaited Shmailov in his quarter-final in 21 year old Mykyta Holoborodko (UKR), who had just knocked out 5th seed Boushita (MAR) in the previous round. The Israeli threw the Ukrainian for waza-ari with a strong o-goshi in the 2nd minute of the bout, before using the same technique with one minute left on the clock, this time scoring a clear ippon.

Shmailov (ISR) throwing Holoborodko (UKR).

The top seed Alberto Gaitero Martin (ESP) would be Shmailov’s semi-final adversary. The two fighters know each other well and had already met eight times in competition prior to today. As such, the match started out as a cagey affair, with both reluctant to engage. Each athlete picked up two penalties in just over a minute and while Gaitero Martin came close in ne-waza, Shmailov turned up the heat in tachi-waza. In the first minute of golden score, he forced the Spaniard into a false attack, which brought him his third penalty and booked the Israeli’s place in the final.

On the other side of the draw, unseeded Ismail Misirov (AIN) and Keita Hadano (JPN) dominated their respective pools. Misirov threw Fryer (GBR), Zaizagaliyev (KAZ) and 7th seed Izvoreanu (MDA) with his devastating uchi-mata before catching number 2 seed Bodgan Iadov (UKR) off-guard with a precise ippon-seoi-nage to score ippon in their quarter-final.

Bronze medal contest, Bogdan Iadov (UKR) vs Alberto Gaitero Martin (ESP)

Hadano was equally effective, throwing Mongolian legend Ganbold twice with ko-uchi-gari in round 2 and Strahinja Buncic (SRB) with a floating-elbow seoi-nage in round 3. He then submitted Serdar Rahimov (TKM) at the end of a close contest with okuri-eri-jime to set up a semi-final with Misirov. It was an enthralling contest in which both players made several strong attacks but it was Hadano who settled it in the 3rd minute, throwing with an off-the-grip harai-goshi which flattened his opponent.

The final was very closely contested, as both players struggled to find a way into their favoured attacks. Hadano picked up an early penalty for a false attack, as he initially struggled to deal with the sheer power of Shmailov. The next penalty arrived a full four minutes later in golden score for Shmailov, that too for a false attack. The Israeli quickly tired, picking up a second penalty and going behind on attacks to his opponent. Hadano took full advantage, countering an overstretched Shmailov with o-soto-gaeshi to score waza-ari and earn a deserved gold medal. Japan can celebrate another gold for one of their up-and-coming team members while Shmailov can be content with strengthening his position as Israel’s likely pick for the Paris Olympic Games ahead of Flicker.

Bronze medal contest, Mykyta Holoborodko (UKR) vs Ismail Misirov (AIN)

The first of the bronze medals was settled between Holoborodko and Misirov. The Ukrainian took the advantage in the second minute as Misirov picked up a second penalty. The neutral athlete kept his cool, however, and came close to scoring with seoi-otoshi. Upon video review, it was determined that Holoborodko had used his head to defend against and escape from the technique. Hansoku-make was awarded and the bronze medal went to Misirov. He will be delighted to earn a second World Judo Tour medal, more than two years after winning silver at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2021.

Gaitero Martin and Iadov fought for the final spot on the podium. The contest looked to be over in the first minute as the Spaniard locked in a tight sankaku-jime while simultaneously applying ude-garami to the Ukrainian’s arm, but Iadov miraculously escaped both submissions. Gaitero Martin continued to work hard in ne-waza, but Iadov dominated the standing exchanges and eventually caught his opponent with a well-timed yoko-otoshi attack to score waza-ari with one minute remaining. That score was enough to earn Iadov his third grand prix bronze medal and fourth overall.

Medals, cheques and Linzer torte were presented by Mr Moshe Ponti, member of the IJF Co-ordination Committee of Directors, President of the Israel Judo Assocation and EJU Development Director, and Ms Corina Korner, Secretary General of the Austrian Judo Federation

Final (-66 kg)

Bronze Medal Fights (-66 kg)