The French team had their women competitors to thank after topping the medal table at the European Judo Championships, held between 19 and 21 November in Prague. France won an impressive five of the seven gold medals available in the women’s categories at the O2 Arena.
The event was originally scheduled to take place in May but suffered two postponements owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end certain nations, including Great Britain, decided not to travel to the Czech Republic due to concerns over the rise in infections throughout Europe.
Despite those challenging external circumstances, as well as the absence of spectators at the arena, the championships were attended by 345 competitors from 40 different countries.
And with Olympic qualification points up for grabs, the event provided an important opportunity for the continent’s finest judoka to lay down a marker with Tokyo 2020 drawing ever nearer.
While France stood out in the women’s competitions, taking gold in the four top weight categories, it was Team Russia who went home happiest on the men’s side of the draw with three golds and three silvers. They included victory for 24 year-old Tamerlan Bashaev over Inal Tasoev in the +100 kg class, one of two all-Russian finals in the men’s tournaments.
Bashaev’s joy in the heavyweight category nonetheless meant despair for local favourite Lukáš Krpálek. The Czech Republic had high hopes for its reigning Olympic champion, who had come into the event as top seed. However, Krpálek’s elimination in the quarter-finals confirmed that the hosts would leave the championships without a single medal.
Elsewhere, there were surprise gold medals for Azerbaijan's Orkhan Safarov and Hungary's Hedvig Karakas, the latter coming fully 11 years on from winning her first European bronze medal in Tbilisi. There was also one gold medal each for judoka from Israel, Moldova, Georgia and Italy.