Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medallist Alex Bologa’s partnership with coach Tamas Gergely is one of the most beautiful – and successful – in judo.
The pair have been training together for nearly 10 years, since Gergely helped pioneer the Romanian Paralympic judo programme in 2012.
Bologa was one of the first judoka to be recruited by the National Paralympic Committee as a teenager in the same year, and has grown into one of the most successful, respected and likeable athletes on the circuit. The Romanian has won two European titles and multiple Grand Prix, as well as Paralympic bronze.
It helps that Gergely is a former judoka himself.
“We started a project here doing blind judo and it was something new for us and I had to learn a lot,” Gergely said. “But going with Alex to competitions and training I learned a lot from other coaches.
“I enjoy training and improving Alex’s judo because I see his talent and his power and he is always improving and I really like that,” he continued. “Somehow it’s also my personal ambition to help him be the best in his category and somehow I try to give him the things I did not get as an athlete. I am trying to help him learn from the mistakes my trainers made and helping him with new training techniques, of course adapted to blind judo.”
Bologa is a B1 judoka, meaning he has little or no vision. As well as being his coach, Gergely is also his guide during competitions and travel together as a pair. But the partnership goes a bit further than that.
“It’s not only in the judo gym that we meet, we also see each other every day and spend our weekends together sometimes,” Gergely said. “I also try to help Alex with the issues he has in everyday life.”
Bologa agrees and with Gergely also relaying vital information about his rivals on the mat, it means he has become very hard to beat.
“When I started in 2012 I didn’t know too much about judo,” said Bologa, who competes in the men’s up to 60kg. “Since then I have improved a lot as an athlete and as a person.
“I liked his [Gergely’s] training methods from the beginning and the fact that he stays calm and explains things to me. He gives me the information I need and everything I need to know about my opponents. We are studying a lot each and every opponent that may cause us a problem.”
The list of those gets smaller with every competition. At the recent Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, Bologa beat Uzbekistan’s Paralympic champion Sherzod Namozov for gold for the third time in as many years.
Of Baku 2021, which saw judoka compete for the first time since 2019, Bologa said: “Being the first competition which is a qualifier for Tokyo, it was of course very difficult, but I was very happy with the return to the mat. I am very happy with it mostly because our preparation and physical condition is not of the highest level because we want peak in time for Tokyo. We are at the very beginning of our preparation for Tokyo. We have a long time to improve ourselves.”
Now that Bologa has unofficially secured himself a place at Tokyo 2020 as the world No.1, he will stay in Romania to train with the national team. This includes gruelling one-two hour training sessions 12 times a week, with Gergely and the national Olympic team.
At the age of 25, Bologa believes he has more to give and would like to compete at both Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.
“For Tokyo, first of all we would like to win a medal there – as good as we can get,” Bologa said. “Of course most of the favourites are going for the gold medal, but we wouldn’t be sad if it was silver or bronze.
“I am very happy to represent Romania at the Paralympics and being one of the hopes for a medal. Of course there is some pressure but now I know mostly each and every opponent, I fought with them many times, so I am mostly confident going there to fight with them. The main goal is to be in my best shape.
“It is my dream to win a medal again in Tokyo, to confirm that I am in good shape. Of course I will try to do my best to win again. That feeling that you get when you win a medal at the Paralympics, it cannot be compared with anything else.”