“After my victory in Athens, the attention to Paralympic judo in my country greatly increased. As a result at the next Paralympic Games in Beijing we were represented in all seven weight categories and won four medals."
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games may still be more than three years away however Azerbaijani judokas are already setting their heights high, especially with November’s European Championships fast approaching.
At London 2012 Azerbaijan finished third on the judo medals table after winning two gold and one bronze medal, the latter of which was won by Ilham Zakiyev in the +100kg class.
Now aged 33, visually impaired powerhouse Zakiyev can be credited with not just helping to increase the profile of judo in his native country but inspiring others to get involved too after winning Paralympic gold at both the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
“After my victory in Athens, the attention to Paralympic judo in my country greatly increased,” Zakiyev told www.paralympic.org.
“As a result at the next Paralympic Games in Beijing we were represented in all seven weight categories and won four medals.
“For the citizens of my country we are heroes of the Paralympic Games,” he added.
In the wake of Azerbaijan’s success in winning four medals at the Beijing Games, the country’s President Ilham Aliyev built a specific training complex for the sport. Such governmental support, Zakiyev says is a great boost for athletes in their preparations for major international competitions such as November’s European Championships.
“The president of the Republic of Azerbaijan is also the president of the National Olympic Committee, so his attention to sport is quite explainable,” said Zakiyev.
“All of our social and financial problems are solved by the government. We don’t even care about these problems and focus our attention only on the training process,” he added.
Buoyed on by the support of his country’s president and government, it is clear that Zakiyev’s passion and pride in performing at the highest level for Azerbaijan is as strong as ever. For his opponents this means a motivation to win more medals at Rio 2016.
Ilham Zakiyev said: “Our results stimulate us for new goals. For today our main goal is to successfully represent our country at the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016.
“I want the athletes to know that no matter whether they win or lose, they should just proudly represent their country.
“I want them to know that our national flag always must be high.
“I want to meet the expectations bestowed upon me further in Rio 2016.
“This is my job and I love my job. I enjoy it even more when the national anthem sounds and the national flag of my country is raised to honour my victories.”
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place between 9 and 20 September 2016.
For further information, please visit www.rio2016.com