On the eve of the 2018 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, the International Judo Federation hosted the Hall of Fame Gala on the 18th of September.

On this occasion, the IJF inducted renowned and experienced individuals in to the Hall of Fame based on their achievements and contributions to the international judo society. Following these highly regarded awards and celebration of the new members, further awards were presented including the IJF Gold Medal Award, IJF Diploma Award and multiple Fair Play Awards.

Amongst the international recipients, there was a plethora of European judoka.

Firstly, Mr. Elnur Mammadli of the host nation. Baku-born Mammadli, influenced by Nazim Huseynov as a child, and with the support from his mother, achieved his dream of becoming an Olympic Champion and beacon for future generations. In Beijing, 2008, the Azeri athlete stepped on the podium to receive a hard earned gold medal and watched his flag fly during the rendition of his national anthem, a proud moment. As the World Championships dawns on his home city, he is reminded of yet another achievement on the world stage when he took a silver in the 2007 World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. The 2006 European Champion has naturally found his place within the Azerbaijan Judo Federation as the current Vice President, and is now being recognised by the IJF for his tremendous contributions.

Behind Elnur Mammadli stands the original hero of Azerbaijan judo. The wonderful Mr Nazim Huseynov was in fact, the first Azeri athlete to obtain an Olympic gold medal after the independence of his country in Barcelona, 1992. The light weight competitor believes it was meant to happen, as he competed on his birthday, August 2nd. Barcelona was a great place for Huseynov to acquire this desperately sought after title as just the year before, he took to the tatami to claim a bronze medal in the 1991 World Championships in the -60kg category.

Many judoka take inspiration from another, in Nazim’s case, this was none other than Japan’s Yasuhiro Yamashita, arguably the greatest athlete of our time. Injecting some of Yamashita’s techniques in to his wrestling repertoire as a child, he conquered many of his friends, cementing his love of the sport and his desire to become the best. He did just that on many occasions prior to the independence of Azerbaijan. He competed for the USSR, which he has stated on previous occasions was very difficult to do as this not only included the other athletes from his own country but that of other extremely strong nations, such as their notoriously strong neighbour, Georgia. After retiring competitively, it was only natural for Huseynov to turn to coaching, and looking at the talent he develops, he is clearly exceptional in that department as well.

Three really was the magic number for Azerbaijan yesterday evening, the third and final induction for the nation was ‘Miracle Man’, Ilham Zakiyev. The heavyweight athlete, to the amazement of medical practitioners, survived a bullet entering one side of his skull and leaving the other. Zakiyev was on the frontline during conflict when he was robbed of his sight, but not his fighting spirit. This incredible individual recovered and first represented Azerbaijan as an independent state in the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, ultimately becoming the champion. The Azeri was unable to settle for one title, but has since became a double Paralympic Champion, double World Champion, six times European Champion and to top it off, became the 2015 Inaugural European Games Champion right here in Baku, the city of Champions.

As one would imagine, the tale of Zakiyev’s inconceivable physical battle has not gone unnoticed among his peers. In 2009 he won the Progress Medal as well as the title of Honoured Master of Sports, then 2012 delivered the Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s international Golden Chinar award. Ilham has received the Order of Honour twice from the President of Azerbaijan, most recently in 2015 for his undisputed determination, success in sport and claiming the gold in the first European Games. A true model.

Over the course of this tournament he, along with other past and present Azeri competitors will represent the ‘Land of Fire’, demonstrating the nations warmth and hospitality as well as influencing future champions to follow in their footsteps.

Following a truly wonderful show from the Azeri hosts, we were introduced to 1993 Hungarian Sportsman of The Year, Mr Antal Kovacs. He received this accolade after becoming the 1993 World Champion in Hamilton. Only the year before, Kovacs dominated the -95kg weight category to become Olympic Champion in Barcelona, these prestigious titles show that he is the most successful Hungarian judoka. Antal Kovacs is a role model to the Hungarian nation and has influenced and inspired a succession of international athletes, showing that his nation is one of exceptional judo. The six times European medalist also took a silver medal in the Munich World Championships in 2001. Evidence that a true talent does not dissipate, but his strength carried him through a successful career spanning over two decades.

The Dutch consistently produce Olympic and World talent, and this particular athlete marked the new millennium with an Olympic Champion title in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Mr Mark Huizinga was no stranger to the Olympic podium, securing a bronze in Atlanta, 1996, and later another third place position in Athens, 2004. This accomplished athlete also took a bronze at the Cairo World Championships and fought to hold five European Championship golds. Huizinga also competed in the Military World Championships, the Olympian winning this a colossal eight times and most recently in 2015 became the Veteran World Champion. Once a champion, always a champion, and his accomplishments were recognised amongst his peers yesterday.

Italian Olympic medalist and National Coach, Mr Felice Mariani stepped up to celebrate his accomplishments and contribution to judo. Mariani was a courageous athlete and his qualities secured him to successfully compete on the world stage and win a bronze medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The late seventies were a challenging but rewarding time for Felice, securing bronze medals in the ’75, ’79 and ’81 World Championships as well as a trio of European titles consecutively between ’78 and ’80. 2018 marks many years of involvement in the sport as a competitor and coach, having a hand in many of the national Italian women’s successes, his passion always remains on the tatami.

Last but certainly not least, the only female athlete to be inducted is the legendary Ms Jane Bridge. The Great Britain athlete made history in Madison Square Gardens, New York, competing and becoming Champion in the first World Championships for women in 1980. The -48kg athlete has demonstrated great strength throughout her career, leading up to today as the Vice President of the European Judo Union. We regularly see Bridge on the tatami, educating future generations, giving back to the judo world that she herself has received a wealth of knowledge from. The triple European Champion may appear small but guaranteed, she is mighty. The petite judoka, as a result of her talents and presence in France, coached in Maisons Alfort and has found herself in body guard positions for the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Alain Delon. Jane Bridge, wonderfully communicative and informed, has earned her place in the Hall of Fame and will continue to be celebrated by her peers and generations of athletes to come, lucky enough to have her wisdom passed on to them.

The IJF recognised Mr. Gavino Pirredda (ITA) who received the IJF Gold Medal for 40 years of activity in the sport. The award was presented by IJF President Mr. Marius L. Vizer.

IJF Referee Director Mr. Bernd Achilles (GER) was next on to the stage was he was honoured with an IJF Diploma for his outstanding refereeing career. The award was presented by IJF Head Referee Director Mr. Juan Carlos Barcos.

The list of all awardees can be found on the IJF website.

By Thea Cowen




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