Baku, June 25, AZERTAC
The men’s European Games Judo competition, doubling as the European Championships, takes place from 25-27 June and features 230 judokas from 47 countries fighting for medals across eight weight categories.
The -60kg class gets things underway on Thursday, and Russia can boast a man in form by the name of Beslan Mudranov, who has lost just one of his nine matches so far this year. In his way will be home favourite Orkhan Safarov and the man he defeated to claim last year's European title, Georgia's Amiran Papinasvili.
Another Russian, Mikhail Pulyaev, looks a strong favourite in the -66kg category, while the Dutchman Dex Elmont, winner of the -73kg European title in 2014, will be hoping to retain that title despite a stiff challenger in the form of Rok Draksic of Slovenia.
In the -81kg event, the French 2013 world champion Loic Pietri has a bronze and a silver from the last two European championships, and will be on the hunt for gold in Baku. His main challenger is World and European champion Avtandili Tchrikishvili of Georgia, who defeated the Frenchman in last year's final.
Oleksandr Pominov of Ukraine is a favourite for the only men's visually impaired judo competition, at +90kg. His main rival will be the experienced 42-year-old Greek Paralympian Theoklitos Papachristos, while Azerbaijan have two entrants eyeing podium finishes.
The final day gets underway with the -90kg category which features the Greek Olympic gold medallist and current world champion Ilias Iliadis and world title runner-up Krisztian Toth of Hungary.
Azerbaijani Judo fans will be pinning their hopes on the 2013 world champion Elkhan Mammadov and last year’s European championship runner-up Elmar Gasimov, both favourites for medals in the -100kg category. They will need the full weight of home support behind them to overcome the Czech world and European champion Lukas Krpalek, however.
The final medals will come in the +100kg event, and without the injured seven-time world champion Teddy Riner of France, who hasn’t lost to a European since 2008, the remaining athletes in the category have a chance to shine. The group looking to seize that empty throne includes Georgian Adam Okruashvili, who has lost the last two European championship finals to Riner, and Hungary's Barna Bor.