19 december 2009

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin leads a judo training session at an advanced athletic school in St Petersburg


The Prime Minister often visits the school to test his skills against other accomplished athletes.

Mr Putin appeared in his kimono tied with a black belt after the national and junior teams had begun training. He made a bow in the doorway, and said:

"We will have a warm-up, and then a discussion over tea to talk about the national team's achievements and problems. So I will have another opportunity to congratulate you" (referring to several medals the Russian team won at the recent world championships).

After the warm-up, Mr Putin defeated several opponents with a combination of fine throws-shoulder catches, hip rolls and back rolls-and diverse undercuts.

One opponent was much heavier than the Prime Minister, but was quickly defeated after the first bout.

Ezio Gamba, however, the chief trainer of the Russian team and an Italian national, proved a tougher opponent.

The school's director Georgy Kukoverov, himself a Master of Sports, described Putin's judo style as follows: "He has a winner's mindset, and victory through dodging is his basic principle."

When a reporter asked whether Putin's partners had been holding back, Kukoverov replied: "Russian athletes are not the ones for loser's chess, and Putin knows what fair play is like. He was champion of Leningrad on two occasions, and won many other contests. He has not lost his form. On the contrary, he is ever fitter."

He recalled that Putin won the title of Master of Sport in judo back in Soviet times, adding, "The title was worth more than in Russia now."

Putin was photographed with the other judoka after the training session and signed the kimonos of some of them. Eight-year Sveta, the youngest judoka present, received a copy of his autographed book Judo with Vladimir Putin as a gift.

An informal discussion over tea was held next.

"Judo clubs should exist all over Russia with good facilities and quality tatamis," Putin said, adding that respect for older, top-notch athletes was the best possible motivation for younger athletes.

"I think everyone has seen the film Sugata Sanshiro (Akira Kurosawa's directional debut about a village boy coming to Tokyo to devote his life to judo, which leads him to harmony through spiritual improvement). I want Russia also to have its own judokas of genius."

Putin went on to mention the Russian team's latest achievements-several gold, silver and bronze medals at the world championships, and a number of victories in other international contests. He ascribes these breakthroughs to the new regimen of Ezio Gamba, who was appointed head trainer last January. "Your trainer sees all those victories as mere secondary results of your training for the Olympics. That's the right view. It inspires you. It is the job itself that matters most in many fields of activity. Sports are different - it is the result that matters here. If you go competing at all, you should be determined to win."

The Prime Minister is sure Russian judokas will achieve greater victories in the future.
Ezio Gamba thanked him for his support for the team and promoting judo in general. He is sure the team will do well at the Olympics, and hopes to meet with Putin quite soon to discuss practical problems. "If you need direct help, just consider me a member of the team," Putin replied.

Team member Vitaly Makarov said Gamba's training methods were quite new to Russian judoka. In particular, they required many trips abroad to gain experience. "Judo requires vast experience and large amounts of money." In response, the Prime Minister mentioned the team's recent decision to accept corporate sponsorship. "I will see whether the sponsors are as good as their word," he said.

Putin also praised the Yavara Neva Club of St Petersburg, which has won the European Judo Cup for a sixth time running. "It is no exaggeration to say it was an outstanding victory, which shows that the club is doing the right thing," he said.