Author: Senan NADIROGHLU
After the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, the unsuccessful performance of our judokas has been widely discussed in the sports community of Azerbaijan. The national team of Azerbaijan included such experienced athletes as Keramet Huseynov (60 kg), Aisha Gurbanli (48 kg), Orkhan Safarov (66 kg), Rustam Orujov (73 kg), Murad Fatiyev (81 kg), Mammadali Mehdiev (90 kg), Zelim Kotsoev (100 kg), and Ushangi Kokauri (100+ kg). Yet the men athletes could get no medals in Tokyo. Irina Kindzerskaya (78+ kg) was the only member of the team to get a medal – she received a bronze medal being the third strongest athlete of the world in her weight category.
Of course, this result could not satisfy the Judo Federation of Azerbaijan. Fiasco at Tokyo 2020 was followed by the resignation of the coaching staff of national teams. At the meeting presided by the Vice-President of the federation, Sadig Sadigov, a new staff was elected. The new head coach of the national team is Movlud Miraliyev, the bronze medalist of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and the World Open. Elchin Ismayilov, Elkhan Rajabli, Shumshad Bahramov, Ilham Mammadov and Zaur Babayev became his assistants.
Below is our interview with the newly appointed head coach of the national judo team of Azerbaijan, Movlud MIRALIYEV, who has a prior experience as one of the coaches of the team.
“Recently, the Azerbaijan Judo Federation has shown you great confidence and appointed you the head coach of the national men's team. How difficult is it to work in the national judo team as a head coach?”
“I would like to thank the leadership of the federation for their trust in me. This is a very big responsibility and every member of the coaching staff is well aware of it. The previous coaching staff was also quite successful. It would be wrong to deny their merits. We will try to justify this trust and achieve better results. The national judo team is expected to receive medals at every competition. A very difficult period is ahead of us.”
“You were part of the national team as an athlete as well – at the Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing. You were a coach in Rio-2006. This experience will most likely help you in choosing the right direction of coaching...”
“I have worked for the national team as an assistant coach. During that period, we had quite successful results. At the Rio Olympics, our team won two silver medals. In addition, our judokas also performed well in a number of other competitions. Our goal remains the same – to move forward and win medals. We have less than three years before the Olympic Games in Paris. We will try to rationally use the accumulated experience in order to make the maximum contribution to the preparation of the team.”
“What are you going to change in the national team in the first place?”
“Federation has decided to train the adult and youth teams jointly. We will control both teams at the same time. There are quite promising athletes among the young. We will get them to the main team in the near future. Their experience obtained from training with adults will help them improve their fitness level. I highly appreciate the federation’s decision.”
“Does it mean we can expect changes in the main team?”
"No fundamental changes. Each of the athletes playing for the national team is considered a favourite in their weight category. It is possible that someone will end their sports career. For example, like Nijat Shikhalizade (66 kg). But this opens way for new promising athletes to the national team. Today we have certain difficulties in the heavy weight category. As you know, our main asset in this category is Ushangi Kokauri. We will try to gradually eliminate the problems in this weight category. There are promising young athletes in the heaviest weight category as well. We will closely monitor them during training and make selections.”
“It would be interesting to know your opinion about the unsuccessful performance of our judokas at the Tokyo Olympics.”
“I was not part of the team in Tokyo. That’s why I cannot pinpoint specific problems. But in fact, before the Olympics, all the athletes had demonstrated good results. Our management had created all the necessary conditions at the training camp and for the team to ensure their successful performance in the competition. In short, the federation had provided the athletes with everything.
“During the Games, we could feel that the psychological states of the athletes was not particularly well. In judo competitions of the Games, every day an athlete becomes a winner in their weight category. Perhaps, a failure of a judoka had a psychological effect on another athlete... I understand them well, as I have had similar moments at the Games in Athens and Beijing. Athletes from the 60 kg weight category are the first to perform in competitions. Defeat of these athletes increases the anxiety of those who follow him. Of course, an unsuccessful performance affects the coaches as well. They naturally expect their students demonstrate effective performance. But athletes in such cases are not able to control themselves psychologically. They are under tremendous pressure, because everyone expects medals from them...
“By the way, it is also wrong to exclude all athletes from the team just because of one failure. These are the same athletes that had won Olympic licenses thanks to their prior successful performances. If they were weak, there would be no licenses for the Tokyo Games, right? Our national team was represented at the Tokyo Olympic Games in full, but, unfortunately, it was a fiasco.”
“How would you comment the opinion on the unlucky draw for the national team?”
“Draw is a significant factor, no doubt about that. But we can't blame it for everything. It is well known that the Olympic Games are the competition of the strongest athletes. There are no weak rivals there. And to be among the winners, you have to compete with the strongest and win. If not at the initial stage of the tournament, but definitely at later stages. An athlete must fight to the very end regardless of the draw and achieve the desired result. Perhaps the drawing played a role. But I see the main reason for the failure in psychological stress.”
“Any judoka who may not be included in the new national team?”
“If an athlete does not want to be a part of the national team, I cannot force him to stay. Personally, I would like to see them all in my team. They are not that old, they are only 29-30. Before the Olympics, we have three years left. I think they can still fight for the best results. We will do our best to make this come true.”
“Some experts urge to change generations in the national team. Do you think this team is capable of successfully performing in Paris?”
“Young and adult athletes are trained together. If a younger judoka is in better shape, we must believe in him. Titles are not so important here. Veteran judokas with high results in previous years must be successful too. In sports, today's success will not help you tomorrow. The best conditions have been created for judokas. They must respond to this with victories and medals. I believe that this team is able to perform better in Paris. A special program will be developed for this. Not the titled athletes, but the most deserving athletes will compete at the Paris Olympic Games.”