Rotterdam 2023: Bologa headlines Para judo champions on day one

Para judo takes centre stage on the opening day of the first European Para Championships in Rotterdam 08 Aug 2023
Florin Alexandru Bologa with his gold medal and mascot on the podium
Florin Alexandru Bologa makes history as the first European Para Championships gold medallist
ⒸEuropean Para Championships 2023

Romania’s Florin Alexandru Bologa has won the first gold medal of the inaugural European Para Championships, with victory in the Men's -73kg J1 to open the Para judo competition on day one. He came to Rotterdam as the favourite, having won three consecutive titles at the Para Judo European Championships. 

“I feel very good because these results give me a lot of confidence. I feel like my work is paid,” said Bologa, a two-time Paralympic medallist.  

Bologa won a dramatic final in the men's -73kg J1 ⒸEuropean Para Championships 2023

His final against Germany’s Lennart Sass came down to the last second. Bologna pulled off a waza-ari just over a minute into the bout and did not allow Sass to seize an opportunity to attack. After the final whistle, Bologa took a deep breath and bowed to the crowd.  

“It’s a unique and good feeling because it’s my fourth European title but my first title (at the European Para Championships). We will have a small celebration at our hotel," he added. 

Sass said, “I won the second place at the World Championships last year. This year, I’m proud too, I tried harder for the gold medal but I’m super proud of the silver,” Sass said. 

“I respect him. He is a really experienced judoka. He has special technique and he is very powerful in blind judo. I started my international career last year, so I follow him close. Train hard and maybe in the next final, I’ll win against him.”  

Ukraine bag triple gold 

Ukraine were the dominant country on day one, winning three of the seven gold medals up for grabs. In the men’s -60kg J2 division, Davyd Khorava pulled off an ippon in a dramatic final against Spain’s Luis Daniel Gavilan Lorenzo and celebrated with his teammates. 

Davyd Khorava (second left) lead an impressive showing from Ukraine ⒸEuropean Para Championships 2023

“To be the European champion is only one step during the long way to the Paralympic Games. We don’t stop here. We will continue to fight and we will continue to train to other competitions,” he said.  

“My gold medal is a small symbol of victory. It’s not for myself, it’s for my family and for my friends. I hope that this medal will bring more success in the future.” 

Earlier in the day, Inna Sych topped the podium in the women’s -57kg J2 category, beating Turkey’s Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Zeynep Celik. Nataliya Nikolaychyk won Ukraine’s third gold medal, beating another Turkish judoka, Cavdar Ecem Tasin, in the final of the women's -48kg J1. 

Despite losing, Celik came out beaming with a smile. 

“I’m happy because I haven’t won a silver medal yet. One week later, we will have the Para judo World Championship so that’s a very good opportunity to win a gold medal,” she said. 

Azerbaijan’s secret to success 

Azerbaijan bagged the most gold medals in Para judo at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, winning six of the 13 gold up for grabs.  

Shahana Hajiyeva topped the podium her Paralympic debut at the Japanese capital and continued her success in Rotterdam. She beat Ukraine’s Yuliia Ivanytska to build her motivation ahead of Paris 2024

“It’s a good feeling. I am happy about this gold medal,” she said. “My main goal is to get the license to Paris 2024 and to get the gold medal like I did at Tokyo 2020 and be a two-time Paralympic champion. 

Paralympic champion Shahana Hajiyeva (r) claimed gold in Rotterdam ⒸEuropean Para Championships 2023

At Tokyo 2020 she beat France’s three-time Paralympian Sandrine Martinet in the final, an experience she says she'll never forget. 

“I still can’t describe my feelings with words. It was amazing, it was very unbelievable, and I hope that all other judokas and other opponents feel this feeling.”  

“I can’t say all of the secret (to success) but concentrating and working hard,” she added. “It’s not easy but I want to experience winning at the Paralympic Games twice.” 

Para judo will continue at Rotterdam Ahoy on Wednesday (9 August). Wheelchair tennis and boccia competitions will also take place. 

Visit the European Para Championships website for full results and to watch live coverage of all 10 Para sports being contested in the Netherlands.