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Toma Nikiforov returns in Bulgaria at Europeans

Toma Nikiforov returns in Bulgaria at Europeans

19 Apr 2022 16:05
by JudoCrazy and JudoInside - Hans van Essen / judo news, results and photos

With a last name like his, you can tell Belgium’s Toma Nikiforov is of Eastern European origin. Bulgarian to be specific. And it is in Sofia, Bulgaria that Nikiforov will be defending his European title, which he won in Lisbon last year. In Sofia his grandparents live a block away from the judo stadium, this must be a special edition for Nikiforov who trained in many places recently such as Mongolia but also Bulgaria during his recovery.

He's a double European champion and a four-time IJF World Tour gold medalist. But so far, Nikiforov has not won a World title, although he came close in the 2017 World Open Championships where he lost to Teddy Riner in the final.

But even if never wins a World or Olympic title, Nikforov’s legacy is already secured because of an incredibly heroic bronze medal win at the 2015 Astana World Championships.

In that match, Nikiforov had somehow managed to jam up his fingers in his opening exchange against Cyrille Maret of France.

With his fingers severely hurt – either dislocated or fractured – it’d look like he would eventually receive hansoku-make for passivity for he really could not take a grip with his left hand.

Midway through the match he had already incurred two shidos. This encouraged Maret to attack him harder. Soon enough, there were three shidos on the board for Nikiforov. He was in danger of being disqualified.

Nikiforov somehow managed to survive over four minutes of Maret’s relentless assault, when with just 40 seconds left, he countered Maret at the edge of the mat for a waza-ari.

Having incurred three shidos already, Nikiforov could not afford to coast for the rest of the match. So, he went on the offensive and with just five seconds left in the match, he caught Maret with an opportunistic soto-makikomi for ippon.

The crowd roared its approval. They knew they had just witnessed one of the most inspiring matches they will ever see. Even the IJF livestream announcers could not believe what they had just seen, with one of them saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” when Nikiforov scored his waza-ari against Maret.

At 29, Nikforov is hardly a spring chicken but he is still in his prime as evidenced by the fact that he is the defending European Champion. He also recently won the prestigious Paris Grand Slam. Will he be able to add yet another European title and become a triple European champion in Sofia?

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