Of the many entrants currently on the IJF World Tour, quite a few have actually changed weight classes. Check out who is competing in Antalya in April. These include Yeldos Smetov (KAZ) 60-66; Eric Takahata (BRA) 60-66; Daniel Kanin (BRA) 66-73; Alexander Wieczerzak (Germany) 81-90; Christian Paraty (ITA) ) 81-90; Asley Gonzalez (ROU) 90-100; Angelica Delgado (USA) 52-57; Kerem Primo (ISR) 57-63; Alice Berendi (ITA) ) 70-78.
There are two notable cases to watch. The first is Olympic champion Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo, who won Olympic gold in the U48kg category. She started out as an U52kg, but because her then more successful teammate Majlinda Kelmendi was also in that heavyweight, she had to step aside and drop to the U48kg.
In hindsight, it was a smart move. She has an Olympic gold medal to show. Can she win gold if she fights U52 kg at the Tokyo Olympics? We’ll never know, but Krasniqi has returned to the U52 kg category (now Kelmendi turned coach).
So far, she has competed in three IJF world tours at her new weight. In the first, the 2022 Baku Grand Slam, she failed to win a medal. She then won gold at the 2022 Almada Grand Prix. And, she won a silver medal at the 2022 Paris Grand Slam. She won gold and silver in the first three IJF events with the new weights. Regardless, this can be considered a success, and it will certainly be interesting to see how she performs in the years ahead leading up to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Losing weight is a pretty good performance, and what about former Brazilian Barbara Timo, who has been fighting for Portugal since 2019, and has taken a remarkable step from the U70kg category, Her performance is not bad. She won a world silver medal in 2019 and a bronze medal at the Paris Grand Slam. She even won a Grand Slam in Tbilisi during that stellar year. But last year was a hoax, failing to qualify for the quarter-finals at the World Championships and the Olympics, and it was a disaster for Timo, who saw a chance in the U63kg category. What a brave decision it was, and one that came immediately after the Olympics. In fact, there was no break and reclaimed the gold medal from the Grand Slam in Paris. Well, the field has been relegated a lot, but Timo confirmed it last weekend with an excellent bronze in Antalya.
Bernadette Graf from Austria has taken another extraordinary step after her success in the U78 kg category since 2017. Previously, she finished fifth in the U70kg category at the 2016 Olympics and 2015 World Championships. She won Grands Prix and some previous World Tour medals in Hohhot and Tashkent, but never achieved success at the world or the Olympics. With Austria in a selection with Olympic silver medalist Michaela Polleres, Berna was still relegated to the U70kg category and immediately reached the final in Antalya, what a real one Comeback.
Obviously, we’re all looking forward to this year’s real switcher: Ukraine’s Daria Bilodid, another player on the rise in the weight class, definitely worth a look. The two-time world champion in the U48kg category has surpassed her rivals. It is unclear which weight class she will compete in, although it is widely speculated that she will jump from U48kg to U57kg. While she hasn’t confirmed anything yet, it’s a safe bet that she’ll get a promotion. She had a mediocre performance at the Tokyo Olympics, likely because she had to go on a strict diet to gain weight. It will be interesting to see if she still dominates the game the way she used to when her opponents are taller, heavier and stronger than she is used to. She is now practicing safely in Spain, perhaps in preparation for the European Championships in Sofia, which is a gift for her, her country and judo fans.