The old guard will make way for the new as the UAE aim to bring home more medals in judo from the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
The squad, comprising six men and two women, have high hopes for the 19th edition of the Games from September 23 to October 8.
“We are very hopeful of returning with three to four medals from the Asian Games with this new squad assembled at the beginning of 2022,” Nasser Al Tamimi, general secretary of the UAE Wrestling and Judo Federation, told The National.
“These judokas are professionals, and they are part of our pathway programme to represent the UAE at the Olympics. They train for 11 months of the year and regularly compete in the world circuit.”
The squad is now managed by their former judokas who represented the UAE in two Olympics – Victor Scvortov and Ivan Remarenco.
“Victor is head coach and Ivan is his assistant. We believe it's a good move as they have been with us for around nine years and taken part in two Olympics,” Al Tamimi said.
“Victor and Ivan have both been in this situation, and they understand our goals and objectives. They know the kind of environment we want the new team to be in. Our main objective is to get them to the Olympics.”
Scvortov and Remarenco competed in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, with the former winning bronze.
“Of course, the Asian Games is important for our judokas as it carries more ranking points to qualify for the Olympics. We are targeting most, if not all of them, to qualify for Paris.
“To qualify for the Olympics is very challenging because they will have only 18 places in each weight category through the worldwide rankings and four each from the continents.”
Heading the world rankings in the men’s division is the UAE's Dzhafar Kostoev, competing in the 100kg category. The Russian-born judoka, 24, was on top of the IJF World Ranking for cadets under-90kg in 2016.
He won the Asian title in 2022, secured a silver medal at the Grand Slam in Paris in 2023 and took a silver at the Grand Slam Qazaq Barysy in Astana in 2023.
“To win medals in judo is very challenging,” said Al Tamimi, a former UAE basketball international.
“We realise there are at least five countries in Asia that are on par with the leading judo nations across the world. Japan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and I consider this UAE squad to be among them.
“We are hopeful Dzhafar will reach the medal round along with two or three others, if not all of them. That’s how confident we are going into the Asian Games.”
Moldovan-born Sergiu Toma created history by winning bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, becoming only the second Olympic medal winner for the nation after Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher's gold in double-trap shooting at the 2004 Athens Games.
Al Tamimi said the reason behind having naturalised judokas was to create a pathway to develop the country’s youth into Olympic medal prospects.
“I have said this earlier, after the London Games, we made a study on how we can bring Olympic medals to the UAE in judo,” Al Tamimi explained.
“We didn’t find any Emirati athletes that we could go into an Olympics with any hope.
“If our objectives were to win medals at the Olympics, we needed athletes who can train full-time and compete in the world circuit throughout the year. However, we could neither find local judokas at that level nor the commitment from them to apply themselves full-time as professionals.
“Until then, we’ll stick to our plans and keep motivating the local judokas and get them to come across with our Olympians. Look at them as champions and role models.”
The UAE squad: Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Karim Abdulaev (77kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg). Women: Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg), Altantsetseg Batsukh (73kg).