Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
The Para-Judo Grand Prix held in Baku was remembered by the bright victory of the Azerbaijani team, which won 11 medals. Unfortunately, the living legend of Azerbaijani judo Ilham Zakiyev was not among the medallists. Double champion of the Paralympic Games, a seven-time European champion and a multiple world champion failed in competition for the bronze medal. We decided to analyse the results of the Baku tournament with him.
"How would you evaluate the results of the Grand Prix as a vice-president of the National Paralympic Committee?"
"It was a great challenge for us. For the first time, our committee held such a significant event in Baku. We have prepared for the tournament very seriously. The organisation of the competition was very well done. In general, our athletes performed with dignity. Our objective was to qualify as many athletes as possible for the 2020 Summer Olympics. We still have time before the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. We strive to win licensing points for the games. We believe that our athletes will adequately represent Azerbaijan in Tokyo."
"Everyone was expecting your victory in this competition, as the owner of all possible titles and awards. How do you explain your personal failure?"
"One has to be ready for any result in sport. Bad luck. In the fight for the bronze medal, I was faced with a biased decision of the judge. Despite this, I think about the upcoming competitions. I want to thank fans. During the competition, their voices gave me extra strength."
"Your first opponent was a Japanese athlete. Previously, he interrupted your promotion in the quarterfinals in London."
"I have already got revenge from Japanese Kento Masaki. Nevertheless, I was preparing for meeting him seriously. I secured a position in the semifinals after defeating him, but I lost in the second fight to an Uzbek athlete, although I was close to success. I do not like to make excuses after defeat. It just didn't work out. I must work more on myself. I never relax. In Baku, responsibility is doubled. Therefore, I really wanted to win a medal in this competition. However, I have some time before the European championship to prove myself."
"The fight for the bronze medal was very dynamic. You did not give up the fight, even when you were injured..."
"Yes, I was injured during a competition with the Georgian para-judoka. Also, I messed up an old injury. Although the ligament rupture in my forearm was operated, I have not fully recovered. Nevertheless, I have tried to hide the pain. In addition, I was injured in the nose, bleeding. Doctors tried to stop the bleeding outside the tatami twice, and the referee said that he would be forced to stop the fight if it happens for the third time. But I have tried to fight to the end but failed to win the medal."
"There were rumours that Zakiyev might have been tired..."
"They used to congratulate me on my victories. As soon as I become defeated, I began hearing rumours too. Competition in Baku was the second tournament that I completed without a medal. It disappointed me too. When referees are not objective, an athlete must perform twice as good. I will draw conclusions from the results of the Baku tournament. Now I am thinking about participating in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Therefore, you will still see me on the tatami well before the Olympics."
"In July, Italy will host the European Judo Championship. You have a chance to become an eight-time champion of the continent."
"European championships are held every two years. In the weight category over 100 kg, I won gold medals of all European championships since 2005. Therefore, I will go to Italy for the eighth gold medal. Our state has created excellent conditions for us, and our task is to return home with medals."
"Your chance to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games is quite high, isn't it?"
"Sport does not like predictions. My rivals prepare more actively to beat me on tatami, for award-winning athletes are analysed more than others. It motivates me even more. There are many licensing competitions before Tokyo-2020. I must do my best to become qualified for the Summer Olympics."
"How many paralympic licenses do you expect for the national team?"
"We believe that our athletes have a chance to compete in Tokyo in all weight categories. Ranking, the level of training increases our chances of participation as a full team. As for other sports, we plan to take to Tokyo more athletes that we did to Rio. By the way, we already have new kinds of sports, like para-taekwondo, for example."
"Will you continue your career after Tokyo-2020?"
"It’s too early to talk about it now. It is more important to raise the flag of Azerbaijan in Tokyo. We have a little more than a year before the Summer Games. We all are busy preparing for them. Time will show what happens in the future".