The French judo team started the European Judo Championships in Montpellier on Friday with three titles thanks to Shirine Boukli (-48 kg), Amandine Buchard (-52 kg) and Luka Mkheidze (-60 kg).
In total, the Blues even won six medals with those in bronze won by Romain Valadier-Picard (-60 kg), Walide Khyar (-66 kg) and Sarah-Léonie Cysique (-57 kg).
It was Shirine Boukli who launched the Blues on the road to gold by winning the third continental title of her career. Already crowned in 2020 and 2022, she won in the final against the Portuguese Catarina Costa, whom she also dominated in the final last year.
Nine months before the Paris Olympics, the 24-year-old judoka confirms her good form after her silver medal won last May at the World Championships in Doha.
Originally from the region, Boukli measured the progress made since the last time the Championships were held in Montpellier, in 2014. That year, she was one of the young volunteers who carried the competitors' crates.
“I didn't know at the time that I was going to succeed like that in judo and today, it's me who is on the mat. I am very happy to have brought this beautiful title home,” she said. “It’s magnificent (...) I know that I gave myself the means and I knew that I was capable of it. It’s a crazy accomplishment!”
Boukli set an example for Luka Mkheidze, who competed in the -60 kg final a few moments later and won against the Ukrainian Dilshot Khalmatov by waza-ari. He won his first European title, after his silver medal won two years ago.
“I remembered 2021 when I lost in the final. So once I reached the final I repeated to myself: You have no right to lose, you will regret it,” he said just after his victory. “I didn’t give up and the gold medal is there.”
“I'm happy because in all my matches, I manage to bring down (my opponent) and that's the goal of judo! I am not a tactician, I like to take down and do sequences on the ground so I am very happy with my day,” said the surprise bronze medalist from the Tokyo Games.
With this victory, he undoubtedly gained a head start for Olympic qualification over the other Frenchman entered in the category, Romain Valadier-Picard, who still won bronze.
“Today I proved that despite the pressure of competing, I am here, I can do it and I did it,” Mkheidze said.
Amandine Buchard then made the third Marseillaise of the day resonate by winning her second European title in less than 52 kg, after that of 2021.
Buchard, who felt “hyper tense” throughout the day, won in the final against Kosovar Distria Krasniqi, reigning Olympic champion in the -48 kg category.
Dominated for most of the final, the Tokyo Olympic vice-champion ended up finding the opening with a ground movement during overtime.
“It wasn't easy today, my start to the competition was a bit difficult. It was a battle with myself,” Buchard explained. “It’s a somewhat painful victory.”
On Saturday, the Sud de France Arena in Montpellier should vibrate for Clarisse Agbégnénou in search of a sixth European title in -63 kg, while the -70 kg category will see the duel between Marie-Eve Gahié and Margaux Pinot.
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