A judoka must have the spirit of a Warrior: Cawas Billimoria

Updated - October 18, 2016 03:11 pm IST

Published - July 24, 2016 09:43 am IST

The ten-time National Judo champion and Arjuna awardee Cawas Billimoria, in Mumbai on Friday.

The ten-time National Judo champion and Arjuna awardee Cawas Billimoria, in Mumbai on Friday.

Cawas Billimoria is a name synonymous with the sport of judo and perhaps there is no one better than him to talk about the martial art sport that is a big hit at the Summer Olympic Games. He took part in the heavy weight category at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He has won medals in the Asian Games (Seoul 1986), South Asian Judo Tournament in 1987, 89 and 1993, in the Commonwealth Judo Tournament and was a national champion from 1984 to 1993.  A Black Belt 7th Dan (Degree) from the national (JFI) and international body (IJF), Cawas is a 1984 Arjuna Award winner and he is currently the Sports Director at Dhirubhai Ambani International School. In this interview Cawas gives an insight into what’s judo all about and Avtar Singh, who has made the Rio cut.

Excerpts from the interview.

Judo has been an Olympic sport since Tokyo 1964?

Judo did not feature in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It was under threat of being removed at Beijing, but the IOC realised that (1) the sport was very widely spread with around 200 members (2) the medals are distributed amongst many countries across continents (3) it was the first Martial art to include women at the world and Olympic level (4) it is a safe sport for children (5) the Olympic Judo Arena is amongst the first to get sold out and (6) it continues to follow traditional Japanese values. The International Judo Federation (IJF) President MariusVizer is very dynamic and he believes that every judoka must benefit financially too and today there are several Judo Grand Prixs and Grand Slams.

Women at the Olympics happened in 1992?

It was in  1988 that women’s judo was included as a demonstration sport and in 1992 the year I participated, woman judo became an official part of the Olympic Games. Judo led the way for others to follow. The IJF insists that if for religious or any other reason a girls team does not participate in a IJF Judo event then the men’s team is not permitted to participate too.

Japan has dominated the Olympics so far winning 36 gold medals and 72 in all. There are others like France, Korea, China, Cuba and  Russia too now ?

One may be surprised to know that in the very first Olympics in Tokyo, the gold medal in the prestigious Open Weight was won by a Dutchman named Anton Geesink. Then for a while the Russians dominated certain weight categories with their skillful arm locks  from their Sambo wrestling. Then the other Europeans led by France dominated with their superior strength based techniques. Today the breakaway Soviet Countries and apart from the other giant Korea, even Mongolia is a force to reckon with in judo. Today any  European country can win a Gold in judo. The second largest judo population after France is Brazil because the South American country has a huge judo base and it will surely be among the judo medals.

About 51 countries have won medals at the Olympics?

It’s definetly the most popular combat sport at the Olympic games. The scoring is transparent and judo is amongst the first sports in the world to use technology (video replays) as an aid for the referee to ensure that no wrong decision is made.

Tell something about Tadahiro Nomura, the only Judoka who has won medals at three consecutive Olympics ? 1996, 2000 and 2004 –gold medals in extra light weight upto 60 kgs. ?

He is a phenomenon because first and foremost he maintained his weight below 60 kgs. for 12 years. His category is all about the skill being executed with super speed and explosive power. Both the above physical components use the fast twitch muscles and  as one ages the fast twitch muscles are the first to be lost. Lastly he was the most analysed judokas to reinvent and arm himself with new techniques every few years at the highest level and make it look easy whilst throwing his opponents is a hallmark of  a true champion. My only regret is that Nomura never won the Laureus award.

In the womens, Ryoko Tamura Tani has won five Olympic medals; to gold medals? All in five consecutive Olympic games? 1992-2008. Barcelona to Beijing. From the age of 16 to 32, an amazing feat ?

I saw Ryoko fight at Barcelona where I participated.  She won a Silver at Atlanta, Silver at Sydney, Gold at  Athens, Gold at Sydney and  Bronze at Beijing. I have the pleasure of refereeing her bouts at Fukuoka Championships in Japan. Ryoko Tamura to Ryoko  Tani; after marriage she went from strength to strength even after the birth of her kids. Like Nomura, Ryoko fought in the lightest weight (48 kg)  for women, that made her domination even more amazing.

Kosovo’s Majlinda Kelmendi is said to be the new star of judo ?

In 2014, Majlinda Kelmendi was declared the best judoka in the world in all weight categories

She was the European champion in 2015 and 2016 and she’s won the most prestigious Paris Grand Slam 2014, 2015 and 2016. She sure is the favorite to win a gold in Rio – 2016.

Sarah Menezes became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic Gold at London…She will be under pressure at home?

Yes. Sarah will be under pressure at home, but she could control the pressure and make the fan following the greatest motivational factor to win her second gold. Let me tell you a statistic that occurred at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Aurélio Miguel the first ever Brazilian Olympic champion won a Gold medal without even scoring a single point on any of his opponents. He won by his opponents getting negative points. But GOLD is GOLD.

Avtar Singh has qualified for Rio. Can you profile Avtar?

With his rapid progress in technique, tactics, endurance and speed Avtar surprised me by qualifying for Rio. Surprised not because he did not have the potential (we identified him as a potential judo medal winner for the 2020 Olympics for the Jindal Sports  Foundation, who have adopted him since 2013) but because of the very poor exposure which he got in the last three years. For some inexplicable reasons even after he was ready to spend his own money he was not sent to all the Olympic qualifying tournaments.

What does it require to be a champion in judo…speed, skill, technique…it’s called the Samurai Warrior sport…throwing down an opponent?

To win a medal at the Olympics a judoka must have ability (that which he is born with) coupled with the highest level and judicious blend of general fitness (strength, speed, stamina, suppleness and Somatotype) and specific fitness (power, timing, coordination,  speed of reaction, agility and balance). All the above physical attributes will not give a person an Olympic medal unless he has the spirit of a warrior. Once a decision is made there is no double mind and no regretting the decision and once the bout begins, there is no thought of injury or pain.

Your experience of the Barcelona Olympics?

I participated in the +95 kg which was then the heavy weight category. Being India champion and Asian Bronze medal winner in 1986 I had qualified for the Seoul Olympics in 1988; my entry was in the Olympic draw sheet too. For some reason the judo team wasn’t sent and strangely athletes in other sports who were number 8 and 10 in the Asian Games were sent. 

 I couldn’t bear to see the Olympic Opening Ceremony from my home on TV when I deserved to be there competing. Believe me I was crazy enough to believe that I could be amonst the medals. But doesn’t everything happen when you Dare to Dream. Yes it was a very hard and lonely journey to pick myself up and train hard again and qualify for Barcelona 1992. I even won a silver at the Commonwealth Championships at Wales in 1992, but in reality I knew that we Indian judokas had very little exposure to international tournaments and foreign training and unfortunately Avtar Singh our prospect for the Olympics at Rio- 2016 has expressed the same.

 I was very eager to perform well at the Olympics, but a hasty attack initiated by Igor Muller, the World No. 5 from Luxembourg had me brought down to ground work after which Igor successfully applied the arm bar. 

 The other highlights were being introduced to and watching Stefie, Stephan and Boris at the tennis courts from the front seats thanks to Ramesh and Leander.  It was sad seeing Ramesh and Leander loose the Bronze to Ivanesivic and Pepric after upsetting the Woodies. It was memorable to watch Carl Lewis win his last Olympic Gold in the Long Jump and Michael Johnson win the 200 and 400 meters. 

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