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World’s Best Judo Team

In the judo competitions during the Rio Paralympics, Uzbekistan was represented by one of the biggest teams. Our athletes strutted their stuff in seven weight categories (for men) and four (for women). But even more impressive were the results; the Uzbek judoka won three gold, one silver and six bronze medals, which placed it first in the unofficial medal standings. Below, the coordinator of the Paralympic judo team, Omon Gofurov, has shared the secrets of the victory.

Ten of the eleven members of the Uzbek team won medals. In your view, why did the eleventh athlete fail to win a medal?

“Because he, Sharif Halilov, has participated in the Paralympic Games for a second time only. Nonetheless, in the London Olympic he bagged a silver medal. I also believe that his switch from +73kg weight category to -81 also had a role to play. He just couldn’t have adapted properly.

Which of the athletes had the most challenging path to victory?

“It is definitely Utkir Begmatov. It so happened that he faced very powerful competitors, almost all of whom had high titles. And to be honest, watching the competitions, we wanted him to win at least bronze. We were particularly nervous when he was fighting with a world champion from Azerbaijan, one of the world’s top Paralympic athletes. Utkir surprised us when he came out a champion.”

I would like to also touch upon the doping scandal that accompanied the Rio Olympics.

“Are you curious to know whether our athletes took doping? Like all the athletes, they were under the strict control of the World Anti-Doping Agency. In Rio alone, each athlete was tested at least twice. And none of them tested positive. We strictly complied with the WADA requirements.”

If Russia had not been disqualified, would our athletes have achieved such results?

Definitely yes. In this sport, the Uzbeksbiggest rivals are Australians and Ukrainians. I think that Russian judo athletes’ participation wouldn’t have that much of an impact on the team results.”

What is the secret of our team’s success?

“In recent years, our judo team has been gaining the status of the strongest team. At the Para Asian Games in Incheon we placed first in the team standings and we managed to achieve the same result in Rio de Janeiro.

Judo is similar to national kurash wrestling in spirit and technique. The latter has become particularly popular in our country over the past years. Wrestlers’ performances can be seen during weddings and other family events and national events. Parents willingly send their children to kurash clubs and it is becoming a starting point for other types of sport.”

How did you manage to pick promising athletes?

“We traveled to regions and met with coaches. By the way, areas where judo for athletes with disabilities is developing most actively are Bukhara, Khorezm and Tashkent regions. We put together national competitions where we met the best athletes, we were literally engaged in “selection”. We put together a team and then set up a training process.”

How come you didn’t mention Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya regions that are considered the historical motherland of kurash wrestling, and we know that these areas gave us the most decorated athletes.

“In picking candidates for our team, we paid attention to the athletes’ personal qualities, potential and abilities. We addressed each issue as a team and discussed the results with the athletes. When it comes to athletes from Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya, I can say that they have promising judoka, but they are not fit for the Paralympics age-wise.” 

One peculiarity of the judo team’s preparation for the games was the absence of a senior coach. There was just a curator. What else can you mention?

“Each athlete had his personal coach, with whom he or she trained for the qualifying competitions. And I replaced the senior coach, trying to coordinate the training process and organize training in accordance with all rules. We got along well and we did it. I am also a coach, a judo specialist, but I don’t have the documents that would allow me to hold a coaching position.

We have closely collaborated with the Judo Federation of Uzbekistan. The coaches that had trained the national judo team for the Olympics worked with our athletes as well. Otherwise, it was provision of athletes with necessary stuff. The Paralympic Association handled all problems in a speedy manner. The athletes had everything they needed to succeed.”

What was the biggest challenge in training the athletes?

The most difficult part in working with Paralympians was to overcome the psychological barrier. But we succeeded in teaching them to overcome it and believing in their strength and achieving success.

We had psychologists who helped us cope with the task. But the most effective “pill” has been participation in international competitions that helped to put together the national team. The medals and prizes, scores, the comprehensive support from the Paralympic Association, the National Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Culture and Sports Affairs and the state in general have served as a powerful stimulus that gave strength to the athletes.” 

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