By Leyla Behbudlu | For the Azerbaijan National Paralympic Committee
Azerbaijan’s Paralympic hero Ilham Zakiyev is set to make his 2019 debut at the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Judo Grand Prix at home in Baku from Monday (13 May).
Zakiyev decided to step back from top-flight competition after the Rio 2016 Paralympics, at which he was Azerbaijan’s flag bearer. He returned in 2018 to win bronze in the men’s over 100kg at the IBSA Judo World Championships in Odivelas, Portugal.
The chance to compete for Azerbaijan when 240 judokas from 36 countries come to Baku was too important for the double Paralympic champion to miss.
“I know that all our fans and supporters in Azerbaijan will be behind us, and we will do our very best to make them proud,” said Zakiyev. “I would love our flag to be flying above all others at this competition.”
With a few days to go before the start of the competition, Zakiyev was confident that the national men’s team is prepared for the challenge: “We’re ready. We have been training together at our camp in Goygol and the team is focused and in high spirits. We are so excited to have the chance to show our strength in our home country.”
The Grand Prix, organised by the Paralympic Committee of Azerbaijan
, will be the first time a Paralympic qualification competition has been held in Azerbaijan. Judokas will be competing for the chance to win a place at Tokyo 2020.
Zakiyev said: “The licensing aspect of the Grand Prix makes this competition even more important and we’re proud it is happening here in Azerbaijan. Our judokas face some tough competition, but we are fit and we will be competing on home soil. I wish Azerbaijan’s athletes great success.”
Around 240 athletes from 36 countries will compete over two days of the Judo Grand Prix, on 13 and 14 May, at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Sports Complex.
Entrance to the competition is free and the competition will be broadcast live on IBSA Judo’s Facebook page
and IBSA’s YouTube channel.
Azerbaijan will be represented by 13 male and 10 female athletes.