Abu Dhabi: World and European bronze medallist Natalie Powell of Great Britain became her country’s first World No 1 on the official IJF World ranking list by winning gold at the Abu Dhabi judo Grand Slam 2017 held at Ipic Arena on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Welsh judoka, a 15-time Grand Prix medallist, defeated 2009 world champion Marhinde Verkerk of Netherlands for gold in a rematch of their world bronze medal contest. World No 8 Verkerk had earlier ended on the losing side against 2014 Commonwealth Games winner Powell on shidos. Earlier in the semis, Powell had showed defending champion Netherlands Guusje Steenhuis the door.
“I was really happy to be able to beat both of them on the same day. I have lost to them quite a few times in the past in the last cycle, but I feel like I am getting stronger and my tactics are getting better. Yes, it was really good,” said an elated Powell.
“It feels pretty cool, amazing. I’m not entirely sure if it is the first ever. I think Euan [Burton] might have been number one as well, so we will say first female number one. So it is pretty cool,” said Powell, who pressed forward and set a fast pace, which forced referee to reprimand Verkerk.
Rio Olympics bronze medallist Cyrille Maret of France has been coming to the capital for a while now but this year proved to be special as he went on to clinch gold in the IJF Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 100-kg final against Poland’s Maciej Sarnacki.
“I’m extremely delighted as I have won against some of the best. It took a long time and a good amount of work to finally get my hands on the gold in Abu Dhabi,” said Maret, who has been a dominant force at Grand Slams held in Paris where he had won thrice in a row from 2014 to 2016.
“The best finish for me here was a bronze medal and to improve on that feels very special. I have had many good moments in my judo career and I’ll remember Abu Dhabi for a long, long time. For sure, I want to return to Abu Dhabi next year, if I stay healthy. It’s still a long way from now and of course, I plan to compete in a few other competitions as well,” added Maret.
Another telling performance came in the men’s Under-100kg final where Russian Niiaz Bilalov got the better of former world bronze medallist Toma Nikiforov of Belgium.
In the women’s action, Baku Grand Slam winner Tessie Savelkouls of the Netherlands won the heavyweight gold beating world bronze medallist Iryna Kindzerska of Azerbaijan to take her country up to second spot in the medal table.
In the first semi-final, Savelkouls had defeated Ekaterinburg Grand Slam silver medallist Jasmin Kuelbs of Germany. Kindzerska had made it to the finals beating former Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist Ksenia Chibisova of Russia by ippon after only 25 seconds.