Sergiu Toma’s historic bronze at the Rio Olympics will inspire the next generation of Emirati judokas to emulate his success, according to the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Kick Boxing Federation.
Toma, 29, became only the second UAE Olympian to claim a medal at a Summer Games when he took third place in the judo -81kg weight class on Tuesday.
He defeated Italy’s Matteo Marconcini at the Carioca Arena 2 having only narrowly missed out on a place in the final.
Toma, who was contesting his third Olympics, has competed for the Emirates for the past three years after originally representing Moldova, the country of his birth.
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However, his success in Rio has understandably garnered significant attention in the UAE – something the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Kick Boxing Federation (UAE WJKBF) says can only raise judo’s profile in the Emirates and galvanise those already involved in the sport here.
“When we started three and a half years ago, the first objective was to win an Olympic medal and the second was to develop the new generation, working alongside the first team,” said Naser Al Tamimi, general secretary of the UAE WJKBF. “And after three years, we’ve started getting what we had planned for. Toma’s medal is a huge motivation that they too can achieve special things.”
The UAE WJKBF already has a programme in place to train its promising core of Under-15 judokas with a view to competing at the 2024 Olympics, if not in Tokyo in four years’ time. They have already begun an extensive training schedule.
The federation is convinced Tomu’s achievement, together with the experience and expertise the young athletes can glean from him and compatriots Victor Scvortov and Ivan Remarenco, the other naturalised Emiratis to compete in Rio, will be of considerable benefit to those coming through.
“Today, we have a new generation, especially four boys and one girl, who are very, very talented and who have closely followed the first team’s results,” Al Tamimi said. “The achievements, and the emotion they share in that, have only motivated them even more.
“The medal in Rio was so important, because this is how we can promote judo and make it more popular in the UAE and make it more interesting for the new generation. And also for the current young judokas: they will have a hero that they can look up to and follow, and to dream that one day they can be like him.”
Of the next generation, much is expected in particular from Fares Al Areefi, Ali Hassan Ali, Ahmed El Hosani, Ahmed Al Naqbi and Meitha Al Neyadi.
At this year’s Judo World Ranking Event Cadets and Juniors in Macau, Al Areefi took gold in 55kg and El Hosani silver, while Hassan Ali clinched silver at 90kg and Al Naqbi bronze at 50kg. Al Neyadi, a female of real talent, competed at last October’s World Junior Championships in Abu Dhabi. All are aged between 14 and 15.
“We have a really strong group now and so we’ve started their planning,” Al Tamimi said. “They’ve already gone to two training camps and two international competitions in Hong Kong and Macau, and now they are at a training camp in Belarus.
“We’re looking at the Asian Championships in September. Then the big target is the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina. These guys are the perfect age for that.”
Al Tamimi says the federation will now work on generating more funding from sponsors and the National Olympic Committee to facilitate the quest for success in Argentina. They believe Toma’s historic achievement this week will assist them in their cause.
At present, there are 550 registered judokas in the UAE, with 14 training centres and six clubs.