Dagestan has a long tradition of punching above its weight when it comes to wrestling, so what better place for Team Russia and the freestyle wrestling teams of three other countries to choose to get in shape for London 2012.
In the Russian republic of Dagestan, a wrestler’s day begins at around 8 am with a run up the Tarki-Tau Mountain. The tradition has been going since Soviet times and is a vital ingredient in the recipe for success that continues to distinguish athletes from this small region on the international freestyle wrestling circuit.
“Over the last 10 or 12 years, Dagestan has become a world center for wrestling with athletes from all over Russia coming here to practice with some of the best sparring partners in the world,” Team Russia coach Yury Shakhmuradov said. “In the last three Olympics our wrestlers won six gold medals, and we have potential for much more, as there are around 30,000 children actively practicing freestyle wrestling, helped by more than 800 coaches.”
Wrestling has become a noted export from Dagestan – rather like Brazil, with its exceptional football players.
The 2008 Olympic champion Ramazan Shahin is a native of Dagestan, but ended up representing Turkey, and happens to be just one of many locals who went looking for a shot at glory beyond Russia’s borders.
“At first, I did not even think of performing for another country. But everything changed after my jaw was broken and I lost my place on the Russian team,” he said. “A short while later, I struck a deal with a Turkish club and began to compete there. After I defeated all of my Turkish opponents in the 66K class, they decided that I could perform for the Turkish national team.”
Shahin’s uncle, Isak Irbaihanov, is the coach for the Turkish national team, who are also in Dagestan training alongside other national teams for the upcoming Summer Games in London.
And in his opinion, the secret of Dagestani wrestling success lies in strong coaching.
“Foreign athletes gain immense experience here,” Irbaihainov stressed. “Every year they come from Korea, Mongolia, and even Cuba. Dagestan has great school of wrestling, not only at the Olympic Training Center, but in any wrestling center here. Even the Americans would come here! They’d videotape everything and then leave.”
With the London Olympics just around the corner, some of wrestling’s finest are right here in Russia’s republic of Dagestan. The local school is considered to be one of the best in the world with four national teams currently gearing up for the Games.
Most of the world’s top wrestlers know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well. And that, in large part, is thanks to a combined preparation program offered here in Dagestan.
The fact that the athletes are aware of their opponents’ condition ahead of the actual competition is by no means a disadvantage for the Russians, as the country’s Olympic heroes try to pass on their fine wrestling traditions to other countries.
“We should not lose what our ancestors have left for us,” Sajid Sajidov, 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, said. “Freestyle wrestling means a family where you can always find understanding and assistance. If we lose those elements of our culture then our own people will not forgive us. Preserving those traditions is our main goal.”
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