Bagdasarov: 'Indian judokas can achieve Olympic glory'

Armen Bagdasarov was 24 when he won Uzbekistan's first Olympic gold medal. He's now the president of his country's national judo federation. "This is a huge country, you have a lot of promise," he said about judo in India.

india, judo, uzbekistan

Armen Bagdasarov became Uzbekistan's first Olympic gold medallist in the 1996 Atlanta games.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

When he entered the 86kg judo final at the 1996 Olympics, Armen Bagdasarov thought it was all a dream.

Uzbekistan was competing at the Atlanta Olympics for the first time after gaining independence in 1991 and he, then 24, thought it was unreal.

“First of all, I asked my coach, ‘can I pinch you to make sure this is all real’,” said Armen on the sidelines of the Asian cadet judo championship at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Thursday evening.

“We trained like crazy before the Olympics, still, when the silver moment came, I couldn’t believe it. I was not sure whether it was all happening in a dream.”

Armen’s 1996 silver was Uzbekistan’s first-ever medal at the Summer Olympics. The country went as part of the unified Soviet team at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Indians too can be successful at the Olympics if they start early, feels the 44-year-old who went on to become the head coach of the Uzbek judo team and then later the president of its national federation.

“This is a huge country, you have a lot of promise. If you want to change your sport, you must start with these children, with the cadet level,” explained Armen.

“Because, when you build a house, you don’t start with the roof, you start with the foundation. So this age, the cadet (15-18 years), is very important and I see you already have a few bronze medals at the Asian championship here and there is a girl in the final too. If you spend money for these children, for this age group, after six to seven years, you could have an Olympic medallist in judo.”

“One day, when I was around seven and watching the Moscow Olympics on television, I spotted my neighbour, Vladimir Pyataev, who was working with the national team. He was a coach there in Moscow. I immediately wanted to take up judo,” he said. That changed his life.

He feels the changes in judo rules have made the sport more transparent.

“Earlier, many judokas tried to win bouts through penalties, through too many negative things, too many tried to score by flags. Now after the rule changes, things are very different for the athletes, officials and for spectators. The sport is more transparent and the crowds are coming to watch it.”