Strong Results Lead to Australia Finishing Eighth in Prague

Team JudoAus caps off European Tour with an outstanding performance

Team JudoAus finishes their tour strong

After six weeks of training and competitions, Team JudoAus are returning home with an eighth-place finish at one of the biggest events this season. The European Open in Prague, Czech Republic was the largest European Open field in history with more than 540 entries from 42 nations.

Heading into this event, TeamJudoAus had seen steady improvement in their results, starting with a 29th Place finish at the IJF Portugal Grand Prix in January to a 13th Place finish at the European Open in Warsaw, Poland last weekend. The team had continually worked and improved their skills after a long hiatus from international competition for many of them. Getting back into the swing of things can be a difficult task, but Team JudoAus was able to step up to the challenge and walk away with a strong result.

Day 1 recap

Team JudoAus began the day with three wins on the trot. Jake Bensted started things off with a win against Alessandro Magnani of Italy in their first round -73 kg Division match-up. A well-timed Uchi-mata throw secured the victory by ippon for Bensted at 2:31 in regulation time.

Next on the mat was Tinka Easton competing in the second round Women’s -52 kg Division. Her opponent was Lucia Munoz Solano of Spain. Easton didn’t waste much time before as she was able to pin her opponent for an ippon by grapple at 3:04 in regulation.

Katharina Haecker pins opponent to mat at 2022 European Open in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Carlos Ferreira
Katharina Haecker pins opponent to mat. Photo by Carlos Ferreira

Katharina Haeckler was the next judoka to represent Team JudoAus in her second round contest with Lisa Tretnjak of Austria in the Women’s -63 kg Division. Haeckler started the competition as the number one seed in her division and her aggressive approach was too much for Tretnjak who was given three shido’s for defensive posture, awarding Haeckler the match with only 0:25 seconds remaining in the match.

The fourth competitor on the night for Team JudoAus was Sam King, competing in the Men’s -73 kg Division. King’s first round opponent was Adam Bydzovsky of the Czech Republic. The two were well matched, but a well-timed Sumi-gaeshi throw from Bydzovsky caught King off guard and ended the match by ippon at 1:34 remaining in regulation.

In the Women’s -63 kg Division. Maeve Coughlan faced Mirjam Wirth of Germany in their second round match. The pair were aggressive in their approach, and both had opportunities to secure the victory, but it was Wirth who caught M. Coughlan in a precarious spot and was able to roll the Australian after their legs were tangled following a throw attempt by M. Coughlan. The German scored the ippon with 2:41 remaining in regulation.

Jake Bensted’s second match of the night was a Men’s -73 kk Division second round contest against Adam Batsiev of Switzerland. The match was back and forth with both competitors narrowly missing on scoring throw opportunities before regulation time expires. In the extra period, a seemingly close and controversial shido was given to Bensted, marking his third for the fight and awarding the match to Batsiev at 0:41 seconds into the golden score period.

In the third round of the Women’s -52 kg Division, Tinka Easton faced off with Elena Stere of Romania. The two women fought hard with both taking chances to score, but it was Stere who would find success scoring an ippon throw with 2:45 remaining in regulation time.

Hacker strikes gold

Team JudoAus last chance to reach the podium on Day 1 came down to Katharina Haecker who did not disappoint. In her third-round match against Eter Askilashvili of Georgia, Haecker was again the dominant competitor, winning the match by submission with 1:16 remaining in regulation.

The quarter-finals would see Haecker face off against Mirjam Wirth of Germany who defeated Maeve Coughlan of Australia earlier in the contest. Wirth was better matched and more prepared for Haecker’s aggressive approach than her previous two opponents. The pair would spare well into the extra period before Haecker secured the victory with an ippon at 3:15 into the golden period.

An old foe awaited Haecker in the semi-finals. Nadja Bazynski of German, who defeated Hacker in a close match at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam a fortnight prior, was hoping to make it two-in-a-row against the Australian, but Haecker had other plans. Like their previous matchup, Haecker was the more aggressive and dominate judoka attacking the German who put up a good fight, but the Australian’s ferocity was too much for Bazynski as she was given a third shido with 1:11 remaining in the contest. This result ensured the Australian a spot on the podium, now all that was left to determine was would it be silver or gold.

In the finals, Haecker would face Agathe Devitry of France. The contest was hard-fought by both competitors with Devitry performing very well against the Australian. The two worked their grips and took opportunities to score with both narrowly missing scoring throws. With the clock ticking toward regulation time, the golden score period seemed like a certainty before Haecker was able to secure a Waza-ari throw and then pinning Devitry to the mat for an ippon by grapple with 0:05 seconds remaining on the clock.

Katharina Haecker poses with fellow podium finishers at 2022 European Open in Prague. Photo by Carlos Ferreira
Proud Katharina Haecker shares her spotlight with fellow medallists. Photo by Carlos Ferreira

This victory would see Haecker on top of the podium in the Women’s -63 kg Division and the first Team JudoAus athlete to win gold on this tour.

Day 2 recap

Nine Team JudoAus judokas were in action on Day 2 of the competition.

Maria Swan and Olena Usenko were the first two competitors for Team JudoAus to compete, both in the first round of the Women’s -78 kg Division. Swan was up first against Sara Fernandez Campillo of Spain. Swan was poised to secure her first victory at a senior event, but Fernandez Campillo spoiled her hopes of doing so after catching Swan in an arm submission with 0:34 seconds remaining in the contest.

Usenko would also face a competitor from Spain, Lucia Perez Gomez. The Australian was caught early by her opponent, giving up a Waza-ari throw less than a minute into the contest, however, Usenko was not going to go down easily on the night. She push and fought hard through the remining time in the period and narrowly missed her timing of several throws that could have seen her through to the next round, but Usenko was unable to score before time expired in the match.

The Men’s -81 kg Division saw Calvin Knoester, Rihari Iki and Uros Nikolic competing for Team JudoAus.

Knoester’s first round match was against Jovan Niskanovic of Serbia. The pair were evenly matched as both had scored a Waza-ari when time expired. As the two headed into the golden score period, it was Knoester who would secure the victory with a well-timed Sumi-gaeshi throw just 0:29 seconds into extra time.

For Iki and Nikolic, their first round contests were against two tough competitors. Iki would face the home crowd favourite Mikulas Mesko of the Czech Republic and Nikolic would square off with Baptiste Pierre of France. Both Australians performed very well, but neither were able to advance to the second round. Iki was caught with in a submission with 1:09 left in regulation and Nikolic was unable to negate the Waza-ari score from Pierre before time expired in their matchup.

In the Men’s -90 kg Division, Robert Vukovich and Harry Cassar both suffered tough loses in their second round contests against Aleksujs Zarudnevs of Latvia and Hugo Grandhaie of France. Vukovich fought well but was caught twice by the Latvian who scored two Waza-ari’s, the second one with 0:57 seconds remaining in regulation. In Cassar’s match with Grandhaie, the match would go into the golden score period, but a third shido given to Cassar would lead to the match being awarded to the Frenchman at 0:26 seconds into the extra period.

Liam Park faced Ivaylo Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the first round of the Men’s +100 kg Division. The two big men were evenly matched and would require the golden score period to settle the contests. In the end, it was Dimitrov who would find success with a well-timed O-uchi-gari that secured the win at 0:21 seconds into the extra period.

Aoife Coughlan reaches the podium

Aoife Coughlan was poised to finish her European Tour with a spot on the podium, having just missed out in her two previous events with 5th place finishes in Sarajevo and Tel Aviv. Her first contest was in the second round of the Women’s -70 kg Division against Bertille Murphy of Germany. A. Coughlan made quick work of the German, scoring two Waza-ari throws in the first minute of the contest.

Her third-round matchup was against the 22-year-old Violic Andela of Croatia. The Croatian fought hard and pushed A. Coughlan to the extra period, but the Australian was too much for Andela who was pinned to the mat for an ippon by grapple at 1:05 in the golden score period.

Margit De Voogd of the Netherlands was A. Coughlan’s quarter-final opponent. The match started quickly with A. Coughlan scoring a quick Waza-ari just 0:45 seconds into the match. De Voogd recovered and fought through several attacks from the Australian and managed to attempt several scoring throws of her own, but A. Coughlan was too strong as she was able to ride out the match with a victory by Waza-ari as time expired.

In her semi-final match, A. Coughlan would face the tough Anka Pogacnik of Slovenia. The pair met previously at the Sarajevo European Open in early February, with Pogacnik coming away the winner. Unfortunately for A. Coughlan, this match would go the same way, with the Slovenian holding onto a Waza-ari victory as regulation time expired.

While not the result the Australian was hoping for, her chance to finish on the podium was alive as she would now face Laerke Olsen of Denmark in the bronze medal match.

The match-up between the pair was a hard-fought battle that saw these competitors putting on a display of athleticism. Both were poised and eager to win the match and bring home a bronze for their country, but it was A. Coughlan’s night to shine as Olsen was given a third shido with just 0:12 seconds remaining in the contest.

Aoife Coughlan poses with fellow podium finishers at 2022 European Open in Prague. Photo by Carlos Ferreira.
All smiles for Aoife Cough as she poses with fellow podium finishers in Prague. Photo by Carlos Ferreira

This bronze medal victory would cap off an amazing run for the Australian who never finished lower than 5th place during her time in Europe.

What’s next for Team JudoAus

Team JudoAus will now return to Australia for a quick break ahead of their national training camp scheduled for late March/early April.

The team will then head to Lima, Peru to compete in the Pan-American – Oceania Championships scheduled for April 15 – 17.

More updates and news will be announced over the coming weeks.

Author: Charles Hall

Information in this article can be found on the European Judo Union Results – Prague Open Competition site: