Alisher Yusupov made the public explode with joy as he joined Tatsuru Saito in the final. The stadium was still fully packed with spectators as the last two athletes entered for the last final of the Grand Slam in Tashkent.
With three attacks back-to-back in three different directions, Yusupov didn’t score but he led the pace and gave Saito doubts. The Japanese, under pressure, launched his uchi-mata but Yusupov brilliantly counter-attacked with a yoko-guruma for waza-ari and delivered a fierce explosion of joy from the public.
Immediately after, Yusupov kept control and pinned Saito for ippon; second and third explosions of joy were to follow. It was purely magical. Alisher Yusupov was bathed in gold. What a way to conclude a beautiful Tashkent Grand Slam for the host country.
Shokhrukhkhon Bakhtiyorov (UZB) and Andy Granda (CUB) qualified for the first bronze medal contest. Granda, who was a little slow in the morning, found again the necessary amount of speed and power to throw Bakhtiyorov with a massive o-goshi for ippon. The bronze medal was poised for the world champion. In Tashkent a few months ago, he finished second behind Andy Granda (CUB), who today had to bow out in the semi-final to Yusupov.
Gela Zaalishvili (GEO) and Temur Rakhimov (TJK) were the last two athletes qualified to win a bronze medal. We expected a massive attack here but during the beginning of the match we only witnessed penalties, until Rakhimov, under pressure, launched an o-soto-gari that was counter-attacked beautifully by Zaalishvili for a first waza-ari. The pressure increased on Rakhimov’s shoulders. He launched again but was again counter-attacked, after Zaalishvili readjusted his position, to score ippon and win a bronze medal for the Georgian judoka.
Everyone was waiting to see the condition of Tatsuru Saito (JPN). We didn’t need to wait too long to have some good indications. Actually both Temur Rakhimov and Saito were in good shape but when they met in the semi-final, it was clear that Saito was stronger than his opponent and the he qualified for the final.
Saito is a true heavy weight, like Japan has been producing for so many years. His own father was twice Olympic champion and a world champion. His figure, but also his capacity to move and to produce amazing judo, is just mesmerising.