Thursday, January 19, 2017

The switch

Text by Oon Yeoh & Hans van Essen
Pictures by David Finch

It's interesting how some players have managed to switch nationalities in order to have a better chance – or in some cases, the only chance – at competing internationally. Switching nationalities is not something new in sports and judo is no exception. In the mid-90s, we saw Maria Pekli of Hungary and Sergey Klishin switch to Australia and Austria, respectively. But the recent Olympic cycle leading up to Rio 2016 saw quite a few players making the switch – enough to possibly call this phenomenon something of a trend.

Sometimes the switch happens for non-competition-related reasons. Angelo Parisi, who had won an Olympic bronze medal for Great Britain in 1972, moved to France and took up citizenship there after marrying a French woman. Britain’s loss was France’s gain for Parisi would go on to win gold and silver medals (+95kg and Open respectively) at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Sometimes the switch is due to patriotic reasons. South Korea’s An Changrim was born to second generation Korean parents in Japan. His top-level training began at University of Tsukuba where he was teammates with current World Champion Takanori Nagase.

There, An showed a lot of promise and was 2013 All-Japan University lightweight champion. He was actually talent-scouted by the Japanese national team but he opted instead to fight for South Korea, as he identified himself as being more Korean than Japanese.

An’s case stands in stark contrast to Yoshiro Akiyama (also known as Choo Sung-hoon), a fourth generation Japanese of Korean descent. Akiyama, who had won the gold medal for South Korea at the 2001 Asian Judo Championships, became a naturalized Japanese citizen that year and subsequently won the gold medal for Japan at the 2002 Asian Games. He also represented Japan at the 2003 World Championships in Osaka where he narrowly missed out for the bronze medal.

More often a switch is made because it gives the player a better shot at qualifying for the Olympics. An interesting case involves not two but three Dutch players at -70kg. The top-ranking player was Kim Polling but there were two other strong players in that category: Linda Bolder and Esther Stam. Bolder would eventually go on to represent Israel while Stam would fight for Georgia. Ironically, Polling now trains in Italy. Which country she will compete for in the future is uncertain.

Read the rest of this article in the JudoCrazy E-mag.

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