The European judo championships have started in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, in the last opportunity for Europe’s judoka to secure a place at the London 2012 Olympics.
The top-14 European athletes in each weight category’s world rankings after the tournament will win a place in London, while a rule restricting each country to one representative per category ensures some national rivalries.
Thursday sees the men 60 and 66 kilogram events, and the women’s 48, 52 and 57 kilogram categories, with Olympic gold medalists Alina Dumitru, Giulia Quintavalle and Isabel Fernandez all competing.
Russia is already guaranteed representation in ten of the 14 Olympic events, and could win another three places in Chelyabinsk, depending on the performance of three athletes.
Irina Zabludina occupies the 14th and final Olympic place in the rankings for the women’s 57 kilogram event, while Vera Moskalyuk, 15th in the 78 kilogram class, and 19th-ranked Marta Labazina in the 63-kilogram class will have to perform well in Chelyabinsk to reach the Olympic standard.
The Russian Judo Federation’s sporting director, Anatoly Laryukov, outlined the requirements for each athlete to RIA Novosti.
“I believe that Vera needs to break into the top three or top five, and Irina into the top five. Marta Labazina’s task is much harder – she needs to reach the final,” he said on Tuesday.
Labazina could yet benefit from extra places allocated by the European Judo Union, Laryukov said.
In the men’s event, Musa Mogushkov and Alim Gadanov hold first and second place respectively in the world rankings, which ensures that the final selection of which athlete to take to London will be made by the Russian Judo Federation, as in two women’s and five other men’s categories.
The only Olympic judo event where Russia is certain not to compete is the women’s 70 kilogram event, where not even a win in Chelyabinsk would be enough to lift Russia’s athletes into the top 14 in Europe.
Russia’s president-elect Vladimir Putin is known as a prominent judo practitioner and fan of the sport, and released his own training book and DVD in 2008. In January, he claimed that the sport could unite Russia’s often fractious ethnic groups.