Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some of Europe’s youngest hopefuls compete on the world stage in Tashkent, and for some, again in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. Now we circle back to the continent for the U23 European Championships and will be fortunate enough to see some of these superstars go for gold in Sarajevo.
The only returning U23 champions from 2021 are Germany’s Seija BALLHAUS in the -57kg category and Ilia SULAMANIDZE of Georgia in the -100kg. Nevertheless there are still multiple medallists from last year who are hungry to be topping the podium this year instead.
With a brief look at the line up, including Sulamanidze, we have some top world athletes arriving, some having medalled in the past couple of weeks, including another of Georgia’s talents, Sophio SOMKHISHVILI in the +78kg category. In Abu Dhabi she really stepped up her game and became a force to be reckoned with, taking home a career best of a silver on the IJF world tour. The 22 year-old placed second in this tournament in Budapest 2021 and she has stiff competition but there is a good chance she will be leaving with a title, going off her recent achievements.
Similarly, and again in the women’s categories, we can boast a current world bronze medallist who also took the EYOF and Junior European title this year making her one of the youngest to look out for this week; Yelyzaveta LYTVYNENKO (UKR). Already she was leaving an impression by stepping up to the junior level with ease but defeating the current Olympic champion; HAMADA Shori (JPN) to take her medal and in only 20 seconds has really drawn the spotlight.
In the -73kg category, last years junior European and world champion, Adrian SULCA (ROU) is back for another continental title. It has been a tough run for him on the senior circuit but his category tends to be the most populated and by a string of formidable athletes. For example in the senior European championships he missed out on a bronze to Olympic finalist, Rustam ORUJOV (AZE) and recently in the senior world championships was unfortunate enough to meet the eventual goal medallist, TSEND-OCHIR Tsogtbaatar (MGL) in the second round. So this opportunity at the U23 level could be just the stepping stone he needs.
Also in the lighter women’s categories, Marica PERISIC (SRB) is coming in off a high from her bronze medal win in Abu Dhabi, and we will be watching the -63kg category for the senior European silver medallist, Laura FAZLIU (KOS) as well as Florentina IVANESCU (ROU). The 20 year-old had an amazing run in the senior world championships, defeating the likes of Ketleyn QUADROS (BRA) and making it to the bronze medal match up against the now double world medallist, Barbara TIMO (POR).
There is a lot of young and more importantly, hungry, talent leaking through on to the senior circuit and we will be fortunate to see a lot of that this weekend. The three-day event will also include the mixed teams competition on Sunday.