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Ivan Todorov driving force behind Serbian success
11 Jun 2018 10:15
The Serbian Judo Federation has gone through a lot of developments over the last two years. First major sportive success was the European title by Aleksandar Kukolj. Not much later followed by the World title for Nemanja Majdov, an amazing success. But the successes don’t grow from the air, it’s an effort of a lot of work.
Driving force behind the Serbian success is Doc. Dr. Ivan Todorov, the Serbian Judo Federation President and a well-educated man. Normally the President isn’t that influential in the sport successes or more in the background when it comes to sports matters. Todorov though has a clear hand in the structure, policy and success. He knows the athletes inside out, he knows all influencers in his country and he copies all the success he sees in other countries, rolling it out to Serbian developments.
The European Cup was held for the eleventh time this weekend and with a record of 34 participating countries. All athletes are present whether they fight or not, they are all involved and appreciated for this involvement. Aleksandr Kukolj is always among the fans, his training buddies and representing his Federation in press, TV, promos and commercials. Same for Nemanja Majdov who came back from Tokyo in the night and came to Belgrade by car to witness the event in the final block. This year Majdov won silver at the European Championships, considered as a normal performance, but it’s just the fourth European medal in the history of this young country. The third was for Milica Nikolic, who won the first medal for a woman ever. It was very special for Red Star Judo Club as Nikolic was the first athlete who started at Red Star and despite some tough moments she always stayed at the club, came back from a broken hip and won a European medal this year.
What is the key for this development in Serbia?
Ivan Todorov explains. “We did a lot of projects. One of the most ambitious and important is the Judo for Children project. We try to work on the future and make it more possible for children to choose for judo as a start. So everyone is familiar with judo. If people watch the TV they know Kukolj, Majdov, Nikolic, they know what’s going on. The President congratulates the athletes and they also behave like promotors of our sport. With these showcases we have an excellent driving force for judo for children in schools.“
“Not just this project, but along side the government understands they must benefit from the values of judo and combat sports in general. So there are investment like the future Training Centre which is estimated to be ready in May 2020 and it will facilitate those combat sports where judo is by far the most important and recognised sport. This investment is including a hotel for 300 guests so we will be really able to offer this as an Olympic Training Centre for the IJF. The IJF is impressed with the developments and President Marius Vizer have asked us to get these two main projects from the ground.”
How long are you involved and what did you do to achieve this?
To be honest it’s not luck. I watch very closely to other countries, what they do, how they do it, and take the best of both worlds. Their proven methods and mix it with our passion and dedication. Hard work is done, like athletes on the tatami. But it’s also about relations to be in touch with influential people in all layers of the society. We invite them for our tournaments, so they understand what is judo and what is needed to become an athlete. One of the main influence is Red Star Belgrade, the most popular footballclub, which is also our judo club, but also basketball in total 25 different sports clubs. So you can also use their social influence. We started on Facebook to make judo popular and we now have 200,000 followers. So we can communicate to fans and Red Star is also a big facilitator. So the decision makers in the board help us. For instance if there is a very talented athlete who has to travel a lot to train twice a day, we can help with an apartment. Or sometimes just little things help to make the life of an athlete easier. For instance the cadet age is very important, but they still have to combine it with school. But if you become a junior, you can really see if those youngsters have the abilities to grow to the new Kukolj or Majdov, Nikolic or Rogic. So we invest in juniors and we can already see the effect at international level.
It seems that the centre of judo is in Belgrade, isn’t that a problem?
Belgrade is the biggest city with 2 million potential judoka, but there are other cities that need the care of the federation. There is many youth in cities like Novi Sad and Nis and we must get them familiar with the values of judo at a young age. That’s why we are in the process of decentralising so we can also help clubs with knowledge and facilities. But for the international top athletes we will stay in Belgrade and improve the quality over years.
The European Cup became a European Open?
“Yes, next year we will become European Open again, the EJU switches year by year and for next year we can upgrade the tournament to another hall, more athletes who are then in the Olympic qualification. We hope to set a new record again of participating nations and judoka. We welcome everyone to come to Belgrade as we are very open for training partners from abroad. The international Training Centre will definitely catapult that more athletes from the region, but also from the world podium join our facilities and enjoy our hospitality.“
What is the ambition for this year?
Todorov: “We hope to win a medal at World Championships in the men’s U90kg, we were close to have a Serbian final in 2017 so who knows. But it would also be great to continue the success of the women and that the juniors set new benchmarks. We won’t forget the European Junior Championships in 2014 where both Nemanja and Stefan Majdov medalled, in 2016 Nemanja repeated to win the European title and his development was like a rocket. But there are more talents like the sisters Anja and Jovana Obradovic, Andrea Stojadinov, Nadezda Petrovic, Marica Perisic. They are all under twenty years. So European Championships in Sofia will for them be important and later the World Championships in Bahamas. In the men’s division we have Strahinja Buncic and Zarko Culum who have international potential. Our first goals is of course the seniors World Championships in Baku in the beginning of September and we hope can surprise once more.”
This weekend Serbia won a record number of medals, 14 in total, 9 on Saturday, 5 on Sunday, 7 by women, 7 by men.
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Lisa Marchese (FRA)