Top European judokas to headline a strong field in Prague from 19-21 November
The judo calendar continues its resumption with the European Championships in Prague on 19-21 November.
Organised by the European Judo Union, the competition was originally due to take place in May but postponed twice as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The event has been held every year since 1957 with the Czech capital previously hosting it in 1991.
Rio 2016 gold medallists Lukas Krpalek and Fabio Basile are among the headliners along with four-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou.
Ahead of the official draw taking place on 18 November, 356 athletes from 37 nations have registered for the championships.
Due to increasing COVID-19 cases across Europe and in the host country, the British Judo Association decided to withdraw its delegation.
The Israeli women's team won't take part in the event after one of their athletes tested positive.
The European Mixed Team Championships - originally scheduled for 28 November in Bucharest, Romania - have been postponed.
Who to watch in Prague
Qualification points (700 for the winner as per a Grand Prix event) will be at stake in Prague with the finest European judokas eager to test themselves after a season marred by cancellations.
With double Olympic champion Teddy Riner absent, Lukas Krpalek will feel the pressure to deliver in front of the home crowd at +100kg.
The Rio 2016 -100kg gold medallist is back on the tatami after missing last month's Budapest Grand Slam following a positive COVID-19 test.
Krpalek is seeking his second super-heavyweight European title, and his fourth in total, but faces stiff competition from Georgia's reigning champion Guram Tushishvili and Budapest winner Inal Tasoev of Russia.
The Italian team could not participate in the event in Budapest after four of its members tested positive upon their arrival.
Having missed his seasonal debut, -66kg world number one Manuel Lombardo is determined to continue his meteoric rise.
The 2018 world junior champion ended 2019 strongly by winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Qingdao Masters making him the first Italian to claim victory in the Judo World Tour's most prestigious event after the World Championships.
"I want to win these European Championships," the 21-year-old told Olympic Channel. "After all this time away from competitions, I can't wait to face the best judokas and challenge myself."
In the fiercely competitive -73kg weight class, Azerbaijan's Olympic silver medallist Rustam Orujov looks the man to beat with reigning champion Tommy Macias of Sweden and Rio 2016 -66kg gold medallist Basile his main rivals.
In the absence of 2019 world champion Sagi Muki and reigning Olympic champion Khasan Khalmurzaev, -81kg number one seed Matthias Casse of Belgium is set to defend his title with Grand Slam Hungary winner Vedat Albayrak of Turkey among the challengers.
In the -90kg category, three world champions are among the favourites with Spain's Nikoloz Sherazadishvili (2018), Noel Van T End of the Netherlands (2019) and Nemanja Majdov of Serbia (2017) all in the field.
But beware Russia's Mikhail Igolnikov who needed just 19 seconds to win the final in Budapest last month.
At -100kg, 2019 world champion Jorge Fonseca of Portugal will be challenged by Russia's defending champion Arman Adamian and his compatriot Niyaz Ilyasov, silver medallist at last year's World Championships in Tokyo.
Daria Bilodid absent in Prague
In the women's field, double world champion Daria Bilodid - who competed in -52kg in Budapest - won't defend her -48kg title from Minsk 2019, where the European Games doubled up as judo's European Championships.
With the 20-year-old Ukrainian out of the competition, world number one Distria Krasniqi from Kosovo will try to continue her winning streak and is likely to be tested by 2018 champion Irina Dolgova from Russia.
With in-form Amandine Bouchard ruled out by injury and defending champion Majlinda Kelmendi not competing, Olympic silver medallist Odette Giuffrida of Italy and four-time continental champ Natalia Kuziutina of Russia are likely to challenge for the -52kg European crown.
At -63kg, we could see a mouthwatering clash for gold between four-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou and reigning Olympic champion Tina Trstenjak in what would be a rematch of the Rio 2016 final.
The 28-year-old Frenchwoman is aiming for her sixth European title (the fifth individual) while the Slovenian shone recently in Budapest, winning her first title since the Zagreb Grand Prix in July last year.
For Agbegnenou, it will be her first competition since claiming February's Paris Grand Slam.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel Podcast about her upcoming return, she said, "It was really, really hard for me because like it's out of my control... but I'm working on it and I think everyone's going to get stronger and become stronger about this situation."
Her fellow French world champion from 2019, Marie Eve Gahie is the number one seed in the -70kg class.
Gahie failed to convince in Hungary a few weeks ago in finishing fifth and is battling with compatriot and reigning European champion Margaux Pinot for a place at Tokyo 2020.
2018 European champion Romane Dicko is the only Frenchwoman in the -78kg draw due to the absence of four-time European gold medallist Audrey Tcheumeo and 2019 world champion Madeleine Malonga. Number one seed is Minsk 2019 bronze medallist Iryna Kidzerska of Azerbaijan with Budapest Grand Slam winner Kayra Sayit of Turkey second seed.
2016 Getty Images
Strict anti-Covid measures
On 31 October the EJU President Sergey Soloveychik confirmed that the European Championships would go ahead despite a second wave of Covid cases across Europe and Czech Republic, but promised that there will be a Task Force Team able to "ensure the safety of the participants".
The EJU experts and the Czech Judo Federation said they are ready to replicate the measures implemented last month by the IJF and the Hungarian Judo Association as the Judo World Tour made its return at the Grand Slam Hungary in Budapest.
All athletes, staff members and officials will be tested at least twice prior to the tournament and need to sign a form stating the absence of Covid symptoms for the past 14 days. They will live in a protective 'bubble' and will only travel between the hotel and the arena.
Manuel Lombardo said, "Once you arrive to the hotel from the airport you can't leave your room until you know the results of your test. You can't leave the hotel for any reason."
Everyone will have have to wear a mask and socially distance at all times except when on the tatami. Competitors are allowed to warm up with only one training partner.
There are three other continental senior tournaments scheduled for this year: the Pan American Judo Championships (19-22 Nov in Guadalajara, Mexico), the Asian-Oceania Championships (26-29 Nov in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) and the African Championships (25-26 Dec in Antananarivo, Madagascar).
By the Olympic Channel