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Friday, July 12, 2024

Golden Martti Puumalainen surprises the elite at the Masters

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Number two seed Yusupov (UZB) had a really hard time, losing against Zaalishvili (GEO), leaving early. Zaalishvili was unseeded in Budapest and so he was already having a good day. However, in the quarter-final he met a fully rebooted version of Martti Puumalainen (FIN), a judoka who had already beaten Simionescu (ROU) and Magomedomarov (UAE) prior to that fight.The second bronze would be hung around the neck of either Zaalishvili or Kageura and after Kageura was disqualified for head dive the medal went to Zaalishvili.Finnish judoka Martti Puumalainen captured the gold medal at the IJF Judo Masters in Budapest in 2023 as first Scandinavian athlete ever. He’s been there for quite some time in the world of judo. As a cadet he won a silver medal at the EYOF in Utrecht in 2013 U90kg. Martti won various national titles in all age categories such as the senior title in 2015 U100kg fighting in the JudoInside talent team. Martti clinched a bronze medal at the European Open in Sofia in 2020. He took bronze at the European U23 Championship in 2019 in Izhevsk. He took bronze at the Grand Prix in Zagreb in 2021. Finnish champion in 2022. Last year Puumalainen won gold at the Oceania Open in Perth which counted for 700 points and this victory in Budapest will catapult him straight into the Olympic qualification zone.Tajik Rakhimov been there for some time but we notice that although his prize list is extensive, there are many medal contests lost and the prevalence of 2nd and 5th places is significant.Since Baku 2021 Temur Rakhimov has reached the final block of every event he’s entered. He passed Snippe (NED) and Youn (KOR) to face Kageura (JPN) in the semi-final, the real crunch point. Rakhimov is at his best for this Masters, though, and dealt with Kageura by throwing him for ippon after almost 8 minutes of fighting. Just one step to go to the top of the podium.SpotlightIn the first bronze medal contest Saito had to pass a determined Youn (KOR) and it wouldn’t be easy as Youn is an expert at toppling the big men and showed it again when he beat veteran Silva (BRA) in the round of 16. Saito lost a semi-final he had no intention of losing but his plan was not Puumalainen’s priority and so Saito needed a new focus to obtain the bronze against YOUN (KOR). It was clear from the beginning that he would not allow a second loss in one day. He measured the first half of the fight well and went ahead with penalties but then half a minute into golden score, having threatened his tai-otoshi and osoto-gari many times, he made one stick, an o-soto which earned him a bronze at the Masters to follow last year’s gold.Into the big-points matches, Puumalainen kept his head and beat the Georgian with strategy and movement, responding to and respecting every element of the contest. He stepped into a semi-final against Tatsuru Saito (JPN), winner of the 2022 Masters and controlled the fight excellently, as he had done throughout the day. With a minute to go he planted a very well timed morote-seoi-nage and rolled Saito on to his side for waza-ari. We saw the young Japanese star accelerate towards equalising but a resilient Finn met him head on and held the score to the bell.Finnish Martti Puumalainen was the surprise of the IJF Masters in Budapest winning the heavyweight category on Sunday. Puumalainen has not only become the first ever Finnish athlete to fight for a Masters medal, but he has done it with robust, confident judo and reached the final; a stellar performance earning a satisfied and understated nod from coach Rok Draksic. In the final he met with number one seed Temur Rakhimov (TJK).The final delivered a well-executed plan for the Finnish fighter. He and his coach Draksic had analysed, practised and prepared. The left-sided seoi-otoshi was ready for the right moment and it came inside the last minute leaving Martti Puumalainen only to stay resolute, to not lose sight of the tactics. World number one, Temur Rakhimov has taken another silver, a good performance and confirmation of his consistency but for Puumalainen a gold at the Masters means a first ever top spot on the World Judo Tour for any Finnish judoka and an incredible validation for the work he and his coach have put in. Martti Puumalainen will go to the Games and perhaps he will secure seeding too.

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