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Naidan Tuvshinbayar is still plugging away
13 Jun 2019 11:10
Mongolia's Tuvshinbayar Naidan was at his peak in 2008 when he won gold in the U100kg category at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he spectacularly took out Olympic and double World Champion Japan’s Keiji Suzuki in his first match.
He took a long break after the Olympics. After more than a year away, Naidan returned to compete at the 2009 Suwon World Cup at a new weight of +100kg. He lost his first match, to Islam El Shehaby of Egypt. Then, he disappeared again for more than a year, only to return for the 2010 Paris Grand Slam where he lost his first match, to Daiki Kamikawa of Japan. After that he dropped back down to -100kg but he failed to get a medal at the 2010 Tokyo World Championships even at the lower weight.
Naidan returned to form in 2011 when he made it to the final of the 2011 Paris Grand Slam. He lost to Henk Grol of the Netherlands but getting a silver medal at the Paris tournament is a very creditable performance. At the 2012 Paris Grand Slam, he did even better, winning gold by defeating Jevgenijs Borodavko of Latvia.
2012 Olympic Games
Still, he was already considered past his prime when he competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games. There, he surprised everyone by making it to the final. He lost to the stylish fighter, Tagir Khaibulaev of Russia, but getting an Olympic silver to complement his earlier Olympic gold secured his status as a hero and indeed a legend of Mongolian judo.
After the Olympics, he seemingly retired from competition and was seen helping to coach Mongolian players at the 2013 Rio World Championships. To the delight of spectators, he took part in the Team event, although he lost both his matches there.
His participation at the World Team event was seen to be a whimsical decision and it was generally assumed he would not be competing anymore after this. But Naidan kept on fighting throughout 2013, taking part in various Grand Prix and Grand Slam, with mixed results.
At the 2014 Chelyabinsk World Championships, he bowed out after his second match. But just a month later, he would win the gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon (South Korea).
The following year was not a good one for Naidan. He failed to get a medal at the 2015 Astana World Championships and also lost both his fights at the Teams event there. Having come this far though, he was not about to miss out on the 2016 Rio Olympics. He competed in Rio but bowed out after his first match there.
Naidan in hibernation
Naidan again went into hibernation, not competing for a year, causing many to believe he had finally retired. But he was back at the 2017 Budapest World Championships, at a new weight of +100kg, where he surprised the judo world again by winning a bronze medal (by defeating Georgia’s Guram Tushishvili, no less).
As he continued to compete throughout 2018, it is obvious he is aiming to make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will surely be his last hurrah. His performance throughout 2018 was patchy at best but at the 2019 Hohhot Grand Prix he made it to the final, where he lost to South Korea’s Kim Min-Jong.
More than 10 years and two additional Olympics after his historic 2008 Beijing Olympic win, Naidan has proven that he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
His main rivals in the heavyweight division are relatively lighter fighters, who had once competed at -100kg but later moved up to +100kg. This includes the likes of Guram Tushishvili of Georgia, Lukas Krpalek of Czech Republic, Henk Grol of the Netherlands and Or Sasson of Israel.
He has fought Tushishvili once, at the 2017 Budapest World Championships, where he was the victor but Tushishvili is now the reigning World Champion. He has fought Krpalek three times, winning once and losing twice. Meanwhile he has fought and lost to Grol five times. The Dutchman seems to be his bogeyman. He has never fought Sasson.
Among the bigger boys, he has fought Brazil’s David Moura twice, winning once and losing once. He recently fought Japan’s top heavyweight, Hisayoshi Harasawa, at the 2018 Osaka Grand Slam, a match in which he won. Naidan has twice lost to South Korea's newcomer Kim Min-Jong, who is a squat heavyweight that he has difficulty with. He has never fought France’s Teddy Riner (who would presumably qualify for the Olympics).
Being relatively small, Naidan is able to drop underneath his opponents. Dropping down low was how he managed to beat Harasawa but whether he could successfully do that against the likes of Riner is another question. One suspects Riner would simply overpower him with his grips.
Naidan's main disadvantage is his age. By the time the Tokyo Olympics comes along he will be 36 years old, making him probably the oldest player in the competition. Physically, Naidan is far from his prime. This is where experience comes into play. Tactically, he knows what to do with each fighter.
Always a legend
You can’t say he’s one of the top prospects for a medal in Tokyo 2020 but you can never rule out this wily, seasoned campaigner from Mongolia. He might just become one of the few judo players in the world to win three Olympic medals.
Note: Naidan is currently 12th in the Olympic rankings. There is another Mongolian, 25-year old, Duurenbayar Ulziibayar, who is 6th in the Olympic rankings, so it's not a certainty that Naidan will be the one chosen to go for Tokyo 2020.
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Frédéric Stiegelmann (FRA)