DOHA – After returning to international competition at the World Championships in Doha following a ban in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian judokas are now eyeing the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Competing under neutral flags, the Russians have struggled to land titles but Arman Adamian broke their duck last Friday in Doha, winning -100 kg gold.
After his win, the Russian flag was replaced for the ceremony with a banner of the competition and the anthem played was that of the International Judo Federation rather than Russia’s.
Adamian’s tunic also bore the letters AIN for Independent Neutral Athletes rather than Russia.
Asked about how he felt about that, Adamian said simply: “No comment.”
“They understand that they come here as an individual because it is the rule from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). We understand but we hope the situation will change,” Russian federation press chief Maria Tikhonravova told AFP.
Russians and Belarusians at the tournament say they have been well received by competitor nations.
“Judo is a big friendly family,” said Adamian.
“When I arrived, I met people from the IJF, EJU (the European federation), and also from international teams and everybody was ready to say thank you for coming, we really missed you and they hope that we will stay here for other competitions until the Olympic Games,” added Tikhonravova.
During their enforced absence from the circuit, the Russian judokas have continued training and taken part in domestic competition or else attended training camps with their Belarus neighbours and allies.
“I never stopped training, I was continuing my job and I think I deserved it,” said Adamian.
There is an advantage in seeing the Russians and Belarusians return in that, a year out from the Paris Olympics, rival nations can see what stage their preparations and level are currently at.
“Better to see them a year out from the Games. It gives us an idea of their level as we had not seen them since March 2022,” explained French deputy head coach Bastien Puget, despite a colleague regretting Ukraine’s resulting withdrawal from the worlds.
“Of course, we want to go (to the Olympics) with our flag and anthem. I am a citizen of Russia, you are a patriot of your country, we are patriots of our country,” said Tikhonravova.
In March, the IOC recommended the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions, without commenting on their presence at the Paris Games. That decision is yet to be taken. AFP