France’s medal challenge in the women’s U70kg competition is headed by Marie-Eve Gahie. However the competition is severe in this weight class. What used to be a European weight class is now a struggle against Japanese dominance at both Olympic and World level.
Only a handful of European women have won an Olympic Games or World Championships medal. Maria Bernabeu of Spain is consistent with two world medals in 2015 and 2017. Sally Conway and Laura-Vargas Koch celebrated a day of world fame with bronze in Rio and World Ranking number two Marie-Eve Gahie was in the World Championships final in 2018. Saying that, the French is for sure one of the favourites to win the gold at the European Games in Minsk.
Many different medal winners
Since the last edition of the European Games in Minsk we had 16 medals at European level, Kim Polling was the only one who won two medals and both gold. The Dutch woman should definitely be counted in for a medal, but due to injuries she couldn’t impress so far at her comeback trials. Secondly her Olympic outlook is not too high in this stage as Sanne van Dijke (NED) meanwhile took her place with a European title in 2017 and a higher position in the IJF Ranking. A clash between both will be interesting and so far Van Dijke couldn’t beat the quadruple European Champion. The Dutch won five of the last six European titles.
Bernholm on form
Zooming in to this year’s performances gives a whole other angle of the truth. The ones in shape are Anna Bernholm of Sweden who managed to be in three IJF Tour finals this year and she won gold in Tel Aviv. Bernholm might be first ever Swedish to win European gold. Two years ago she lost to Gahie, but she is much more mature this year. Before mentioned Maria Bernabeu is still a candidate for a medal. Gahie actually lost to Van Dijke, Polleres, Matic and Conway over the last four years, so anything is possible. British flagbearer in Minsk Sally Conway is perhaps the most dangerous outsider for Gahie. She knows when to peak. Exactly why we haven’t seen her for a while, but her groundwork is probably the best in Europe and a serious weapon.
New kids move on
Another outsider is Margaux Pinot of France, who won the Grand Prix in Marrakech and she was in the final of the Grand Slam in Paris. Elisavet Teltsidou is a new generation judoka; strong and finally successful after a long career in the dark but the Greek is now a medal prospect. Not only she is probably the best football player in the whole field, her judo is also impressive. She beat Polling twice and Maria Portela, but in this field the competition is tough and the momentum changes quickly. Past results won’t guarantee anything, Vargas-Koch and Matic know all about it. Miriam Butkereit is the one on form for Germany and she could take a medal in Minsk.
New names come quickly and Italian World Champion Alice Bellandi is one of the fastest developing athletes around. Barbara Timo who was born in Brazil now fights for Portugal and successfully managed to improve her track record. Even Megan Fletcher, now fighting for Ireland is inspired by her own country and her brothers performances and can really hurt the top athletes.
The ones who should clear the path for the eventual winner can come out of nowhere, the European Games may inspire youngsters who suddenly see the light: Samardzic, Willems, Sook to mention a few, likely not able to win a medal, but strong enough to make a move on the elite.
Gahie, Conway, Bernabeu and Bernholm have good papers but it won’t be easy to predict the winner U70kg. At world level though there’s still a world to win.