It took a lot of work on Labor Day. It was not a day for amateurs; people had to pick up a pick and shovel and sweat like never before. You had to be particularly motivated and in this match, the Pole Piotr Kuczera and the Dutchman Michael Korrel were in pole position. They were the best and that’s why we start with them.
-100kg Dutch Dawn
We start with Kuczera, a 27-year-old player, virtually unknown to the public, whose greatest achievements so far were two Grand Slam bronze medals two years ago. Kuczera played in the first upset of the day, knocking out the previously untouchable Jorge Fonseca in the second round. The next to fall was Nikoloz Sherazishvili. Two world champions have been pushed out of his way with intelligence and offensive judo. There were no problems in the semi-finals and a chance to win a European title presented itself.
Michael Korrel was expected in Sofia. The Dutchman lost the Grand Slam final in Tel Aviv but he regained the quality of his judo; he is more efficient, more patient, and intelligently builds his fights. The only one who could put him in trouble on his way to the end was Azerbaijani Elmar Gasimov. Korrel reached the final by knocking out compatriot Simeon Catharina in the semis as the favorite, but not so clearly.
Korrel studied his opponent well and crippled Kuczera early on. The Pole didn’t seem the same as the one who had crushed everyone in the morning. Nothing relevant happened, just a shido for Kuczera and then the golden score came. This is the moment Kuczera chose to get active and multiply the initiatives but physically Korrel seemed more complete and after eight minutes of fighting, he flew to Kuczera to score ippon and win gold.
Sherazadishvili beat Catharina for bronze, adding a fourth medal to the tally for the Spanish delegation.
Daniel Eich of Switzerland ended a great tournament by beating Gasimov by ippon in the match for the second bronze medal.
-78kg German Inspired
Something similar happened with women. Alina Boehm recovered in splendid form and reached the semi-finals by ippon against the Spaniard Pérez Gómez, the Israeli Lanir and the Briton Powell. In the semi-final, she had to raise the bar of her requirement because she was fighting against the Italian Alice Bellandi, who had just eliminated the French and first seed, Madeleine Malonga. Boehm won by imitating the course of Kuczera and like the Pole, her last opponent was a Dutchwoman, also expected in Sofia.
Guusje Steenhuis was the second favorite. She did everything like her compatriot Korrel, with determination, imposing her rhythm and without making any mistakes. She was also the favorite going into the final but it was Boehm’s day. We have never seen her so inspired before, for a whole day. She was serious, never made a mistake, never even scored waza-ari. There was nothing Steenjuis could have done, not today and not against Boehm, who won his first major title.
Malonga clinched bronze via the non-appearance of Portugal‘s Patricia Sampaio, who was injured in the semi-finals. The second bronze medal went to Italy’s Alice Bellandi, who beat Germany’s Luise Malzahn with a classic ippon.
-90kg Full control
That a Georgian reaches the final in this category is neither new nor surprising. That a Serb does it, since Aleksandar Kukolj changed weight, is not so common. Darko Brasnjovic rewrote history by reaching the final at the age of 22 and with a clean list of medals in the senior category. The Serb had to work hard because almost all of his fights reached the golden score. He won more by his mental strength than his physical strength and he also didn’t do enough judo to sign autographs. This is why his presence in the final was quite an achievement, because even without being the best or the most attractive in terms of the quality of his repertoire, he knew how to win with his guts and his head.
It was in the final that he met the toughest rival. Luka Maisuradze, silver in Antalya, bronze in Baku and Paris last year, is the typical Georgian warrior, a badass who is hard to beat even when he’s having a bad day. In Sofia, he had a good day and it was bad news for Bransjovic.
Maisuradze took control early on and scored waza-ari. He was totally superior and Bransjovic was also penalized twice. Time is running out and the fall begins for the Serb, who makes the mistake of rushing and collects by osaekomi. By the way, Bransjovic learned live that the finals are something else, no matter how hard we fought to reach them, which did not detract from an exceptional performance throughout the day. Maisuradze has fulfilled the forecasts and with his new European title, he has added to a record that is starting to look very good.
Mammadali Mehdiyev against Krisztian Toth, Azerbaijan against Hungary for a bronze medal. They have the same wrinkles, the same gray hair and they have been part of the elite for so long that they have no more secrets to reveal. It was a tactical impulse that was about to be resolved in a penalty shootout. The only attacker was Mehdiyev and Toth paid the price for his inactivity.
The second bronze medal was a matter between Greece and Italy and two bronze medalist judokas in previous editions. Christian Parlati and Theodoros Tselidis had an equally inactive duel as the previous one until Tselidis countered an attack by Parlati and scored an ippon; a different first and last medal for Greece in Sofia.
+78kg New chapter
For some time this category has been reduced to a final between Raz Hershko and any French woman. It’s as if Israel and France had decided to share the cake of all the tournaments. When it’s not Romane Dicko, it’s Lea Fontaine or Julia Tolofua. By now, all of France knows Hershko’s judo perfectly and Hershko herself has detailed files on the French school. In Bulgaria, it was Dicko’s turn, since his first place in the world rankings. Both reached the final almost too easily, as if there was no way to get anything other than a head-to-head in the last game.
Hershko is faster, Dicko is bigger. It all started at full speed with Dicko scoring waza-ari. A minute later, she finished with a superb uchi-mata. This time she was ready for Hershko.
Asya Tavano added a second bronze medal for Italy and Marit Kamps was unable to register for the Dutch side after being beaten by Turkey’s Sebile Akbulut.
+100kg head on a Spijkers
If there was a weight with very little doubt, it was the heavyweight category. The Georgian and former world and European champion, Guram Tushishvili, acted as a scarecrow because of his prize list and the absence of the main tenors. Perhaps he felt too favored, too superior. Maybe he thought the gold was already his before he started. Tushishvili reached the semi-finals, it’s true, but he was beaten by Jan Spijkers, who won one of the best victories of his career and certified that, albeit late, the Netherlands have woken up in time to go for gold in three of the five competing categories. With the Georgian out of contention, Germany seized the opportunity through Johannes Frey, whose last final of any kind was in 2020. Due to recent results, the Dutchman started out as favourites, but what the European Championships in Sofia have taught us is that the favorites have thinner skin than it seems.
Spijkers took advantage of an opening from Frey to work in ne-waza and achieve an osaekomi which made him European champion. It was a clean win, without hesitation and it was an express release.
Roy Meyer still isn’t retiring and he’s right! The Dutchman collected a new bronze medal, which is added to that obtained during the last world championship. He knows that the final is already a step too high, but he is still good enough to fight for bronze; another medal for the Netherlands.
Tushishvili saved his honor with a bronze medal, beating Ukraine’s Yakiv Khammo.
France topped the medal table in Sofia, proving their favorite status. It may be an omen because the next edition of the European Championships will take place in France. The Netherlands finished second thanks to a sensational final day, with Georgia completing the top nations podium.