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Antoine Valois-Fortier did not hold back his praise for François Gauthier-Drapeau, bronze medallist in the under-81 kg weight category at the Paris Grand Slam on Sunday. According to the coach, today’s performance by Gauthier-Drapeau was one of the best of the judoka’s burgeoning senior-level international career.
Gauthier-Drapeau capped off his tournament by defeating Vedat Albayrak of Turkey—ranked seventh in the world by the International Judo Federation—in one of the two bronze medal finals. Although the Canadian had lost his last three bouts against Albayrak, he refused to be intimidated, and he launched numerous attacks right out of the gate. His efforts paid off when, just over 90 seconds into the fight, he scored an ippon to secure the victory. “It was a fantastic day! Not only did he win a bronze medal, but he did so against a very strong opponent. It’s a testament to his progress over the past few months. Don’t be surprised to see him on the podium more and more frequently,” remarked Valois-Fortier, following the competition. Earlier on Sunday, Gauthier-Drapeau bested José Maria Mendiola Izquieta of Spain, Abylaikhan Zhubanazar of Kazakhstan and Shamil Borchashvili of Austria on the road to the quarter-finals. The Québécois then faced Timo Cavelius of Germany, who was fully on top of his game. Cavelius opened the scoring with a waza-ari, before following up with an ippon for the win. He later advanced to the big final, where he finished with the silver medal after being defeated by Tato Grigalashvili of Georgia. “In the end, the outcome hinged on the beginning of the bout, when Cavelius took the lead,” explained Valois-Fortier. “After that, it was a game of cat and mouse. François took a risk at the right moment, but unfortunately, his opponent managed to counter him.” Gauthier-Drapeau moved on to the repechage, where he eliminated Joao Fernando of Portugal before wrapping up the Grand Slam in style against Albayrak. “Those were two big wins for François,” added the Canadian coach. “He had never beaten Fernando before, and it’s clear that he has improved tactically. He was already one of the best in his weight division physically, and now he’s showing us that he’s going to be one of the best tactically, as well. We’ll be seeing more of his talent, that’s for sure,” concluded Valois-Fortier. A different result for El Nahas Shady El Nahas also secured a ticket to the final round, where he squared off against Peter Paltchik of Israel in one of the under-100 kg bronze medal fights. The 24-year-old Ontarian quickly made his intentions clear, throwing his opponent in the first minute of action to score a waza-ari and take the lead. El Nahas then focused on defence, and that’s when Paltchik was able to turn the tide. He stepped up the pressure on the Canadian, who first received a shido, then was caught out a few moments later by a throw. The officials awarded an ippon to Paltchik and, by the same token, the bronze medal. “I felt like I was in control at the beginning of the fight, because I knew I could throw him. I had done it at the Olympics, and I quickly did it again today. But after that, I decided to minimize the risks, and I played it very defensively. That’s not my usual style, and I ended up getting caught out. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also just part of the sport,” explained El Nahas, who finished the day in fifth place. It was the second straight loss for the Torontonian, who had bowed out to Dzhafar Kostoev of the United Arab Emirates in the semi-final. Kostoev later won the silver medal. “I beat [Kostoev] in Abu Dhabi in October, and I don’t know what he’s been doing since then, but he was really solid today. I’ll have to ask him about his workout routine at the gym!” joked El Nahas, who will nevertheless focus on the positive aspects of his trip to the French capital, including his three consecutive wins early in the tournament. After receiving a bye in the first round, El Nahas defeated Britain’s Rhys Thompson and India’s Avtar Singh by ippon, before ousting reigning world champion Muzaffarbek Turoboyev of Uzbekistan. “It felt good to beat Turoboyev,” confessed El Nahas. “He beat Kyle Reyes and me at the Worlds, so it felt good to get a bit of revenge. It wasn’t necessarily the result I had hoped for, because I always aim for gold, but it was a good experience for learning how to better manage fights.” Michael Korrel of the Netherlands claimed the gold medal in the under-100 kg weight division, while Zelym Kotsoiev of Azerbaijan captured the other bronze medal. Also in action on Sunday were Étienne Briand (-81 kg) and Marc Deschênes (+100 kg). Both judokas won their first fights of the day, but lost their second. Briand bowed out to Kenya Kohara of Japan, while Deschênes lost to Ushangi Kokauri of Azerbaijan, who finished the tournament in seventh place. The next International Judo Federation Grand Slam will take place in Tel Aviv, Israel, from February 16 to 18. A delegation of ten Canadian athletes will participate. Meanwhile, five Canadians will be in action at the European Open in Sofia, Bulgaria, next weekend.