KARACHI: Pakistan’s top judokas will begin their 2024 Paris Olympics qualification journey with the Grand Slam, the first qualifying round for the world’s major extravaganza, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, from Saturday (tomorrow).
On Saturday, Haseeb Mustafa will face Allaberdiev Ramazon of Uzbekistan in the 81 kilogramme fight. Haseeb is a young fighter and is set to make his Grand Slam debut while Ramazon early this year finished seventh in the Prague European Open.
In the -100kg category, Pakistan’s promising fighter and the 2021 Asia and Oceania Junior Championship bronze medallist Qaiser Afridi will begin his journey with the fight against Batkhuyag Gonchigsuren of Mongolia on June 26. Batkhuyag is the 2021 Tashkent Grand Slam bronze medallist while Qaiser will make his Grand Slam debut. Having strong credentials at the junior level in international circuit, Qaiser is expected to pull off a good performance in the event which will help him grab initial points in what could be a long journey to 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I have trained well and am ready for the task,” Qaiser told ‘The News’ from Mongolia on Thursday. “I know the strength of my opponent and InshaAllah will beat him,” he said.
Hamid Ali, who got bye in the first round, will begin his journey with his fight in the +100kg against Russain fighter Tasoev Inal, also on June 26.
The Russian, playing under the IJF banner, is a solid fighter, having got gold medals in the 2021 Paris Grand Slam and 2021 European Championship. He claimed silver medals in the European Championship 2020 and the Doha Masters in 2021.
Hamid has to his credit a South Asian gold. He competed in the World Championship in Hungary last year.
Mohammad Hasnain was expected to join the trio in Mongolia but he did not get the NOC from his parent department. “Yes, he was sure to feature in the event but did not get the NOC from his department,” a senior official of Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) told this correspondent.
Qaiser flew to Mongolia a few days back. Haseeb and Hamid reached there on Wednesday.
According to sources in Mongolia, both fighters took complete rest on Thursday after a long journey and all the three fighters will hold a joint training session on Friday (today).
The competition begins on Friday and ends on Sunday.
Pakistan’s star fighter and two-time Olympian Shah Hussain missed the event due to an injury. Shah is training these days in Tokyo to prepare for the Commonwealth Games slated to be held in Birmingham from July 28 to August 8.
Qaiser will also feature in the quadrennial event.
“The Grand Slam will help our youngsters to learn and open their accounts in the Olympics rankings,” a PJF senior official said.
“It’s very important to give exposure to these athletes. If they play in international circuit they will learn and be ready for major fights,” the official said.
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