Judo team readies for Beijing

With the Beijing Olympics now a little over a year away, members of Greece’s national judo team will be looking for sturdy performances at the high-level Super World Cup in Paris this weekend. Greece – a country where interest in judo has risen astonishingly in recent years as a result of success in the sport at international level – will be represented by a 10-member team. The squad includes the reigning Olympic and European champion Ilias Iliadis, whose endeavors have contributed significantly to judo’s popularity rise in Greece, especially among youngsters now engaged in the sport. A recent study conducted on behalf of the sport’s Greek federation showed that judo activity here rose by 7,000 percent between 2001 and now. Iliadis, a 23-year-old nationalized Greek from the former Soviet Union, had won gold at the Super World Cup in 2005 and silver a year earlier. «It’s the season’s beginning. We’re going there to compare our strengths and see what level our opponents are at. It’s too early for conclusions. There’s still a long way to go until we secure qualification for the Olympics. That’s our main objective,» said Iliadis. The sport’s analysts consider Iliadis to be just the tip of the iceberg. Behind him stand a promising number of athletes capable of distinction at major international events. The majority are young with two or three Olympiads ahead of them. Also competing for Greece will be Giorgi Vazagashvili, who needed to shed weight in the lead-up to this event to return to the 66-kilogram category, in which he won a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics seven years ago. «This is the calendar’s biggest event. It’s bigger than the World Championships. All leading athletes strive to compete at this tournament,» noted the Greek team’s head coach Nikos Iliadis, while adding that he was satisfied by the preparations.