Baku, June 21, AZERTAC
Sambo was widely used for physical training in the Soviet military from the 1920s, and world championships have been held since the 1970s. Now it hopes to gain Olympic recognition, and the governing body of the sport is pushing for it to be a demonstration sport at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"These Games are a very good opportunity for Sambo to show the world what a beautiful sport it is," said Gasca Viorel, national coach of the Romanian team. "It is similar to Jujitsu and encourages improvisation on the mat. It's growing in popularity and it deserves a place in the Olympics."
The Sambo athlete with the best chance of taking gold is Amil Gasimov, the 74kg world champion. He, along with three other members of Azerbaijan's team, is from Ganja, the country's second city which has produced four world champions over the years, and where the sport is, understandably, very popular.
"We expect medals from all our athletes," said national team coach Yagub Abdullayev. "The fans can inspire our athletes - so please come and support them."
Home sambists compete in all eight weight categories - four men, four women. Russia and Belarus also have eight in their teams, and other strong entries come from Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine.
Romanian coach Viorel has high hopes for his women's team, among whom the best medal prospect is Daniela Hondiu in the -60kg.
"The girls are very strong," said Viorel, 46, who runs his own specialist bodyguard company. "When the girls hurt their wrist or their knee, they just get on with it. The boys, they show their pain, 'Oh, it hurts', they like to cry about it."
The sole day of European Games Sambo action takes place on Monday 22 June at the Heydar Aliyev Arena, when all eight gold medals will be decided. A total 72 athletes from 21 NOCs will compete.
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