World bronze medallist in 2015, European runner-up in 2016, Toma Nikiforov (-100 kg) shows up as one of the pretenders to the Gold medal at the World championships in Budapest (August 28th – September 3rd).
With his fighting spirit and his thirst for Judo, The Belgian champion of Bulgarian origins is, at 24 years old, on his way to fulfillment. He tells us about the Olympics and his Europeans, his ambitions at the Worlds, talks about his preparation…
By Ludovic Mauchien
He has made his living with it but Judo means a lot more for him. It’s first a family legacy, which values that he hold dear, It’s, above all, his passion. Toma Nikiforov never frowns on measure. He even watches all the competitions on Internet.
Born on January 25th 1993 in Schaerbeek, near Brussels, the city where his parents settled when they left Bulgaria, the champion follow in his father’s footsteps before quickly getting ahead of him. U17 World and European runner up in 2009, silver medallist at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, Toma therefore keeps being on international podiums.
He makes his 1st big performance in the Senior division by winning the Havana Grand-Prix in 2014 (and 2 wins in World Cup). In 2015, he wins no less than 5 bronze medals, at the World and European Championships, at the Masters and 2 in Grand Chelem.
But, from summer 2015, he is strongly handicaped because his hands frequently cramps up. « My bone was going out of my hand », was he saying after his homeric fight won against Frenchman Cyrille Maret for the Bronze medal in August. But, no matter the pain, Toma Nikiforov wins a silver medal at the 2016 European Championships the following spring (he lost against Dutchman Grol in the final).
« The longest 5 minutes of my life ! »
His summer will be less brilliant. He didn’t shine in Rio, eliminated in the 8th of final by the Georgian Gviniashvili. Hard times come after the Olympic Games. His therapy ? To win ! Toma enjoys again the spoils of victory at the beginning of the year in Dusseldorf. But, at the European Championships last April in Warsaw, he got caught by the Georgian Liparteliani at the 1st round, before winning the Slovenian Open in June, his last tournament so far. Since, the new Adidas Team member is getting actively prepared for Hungary, where he wishes to use everything he’s got in his arsenal.
At your last World championships, you won a bronze medal. It should be a great memory ?
Not really in fact. Of course, I am very happy because I won a medal but it’s the only good thing. It was very, very painful. This fight against Cyrille (Maret) corresponds to the longest 5 minutes of my life ! When it stopped, I was happier that it ended rather than winning a medal ! And, afterwards, I had surgery.
Between your two surgeries (forearm and carpal canal), you achieved to be finalist at the 2016 European championships. Is it a good or a bad memory ?
I really had a very good day. I didn’t make any mistakes. I felt very good. In this final against Henk Grol, just before getting on the mat, I had once again some cramps in hands. I didn’t feel like relive the same fight than in Astana (against Maret). As I couldn’t afford to make a tactical game, I attacked to score Ippon, except that Grol is a good blocker and he is very good at striking back. And my attack was not so well prepared. Then, I was the one who got up on the back ! I was bummed because I had beat him in Paris, and it would have been a very interesting fight if I have had all my means.
« You shouldn’t spoke to me about the Games… »
At the Olympic Games, you didn’t win any medal. What is your feeling today ?
On the 2nd round, I was opposed to the Georgian Gviniashvili, a judoka that I had never met neither in competition, nor in randori. He is a highly atypical judoka. He is very small but still very powerful ! He didn’t give me time to attack, he always attacked first. I was quite troubled. When I took him on the right side, he shifted and moved to the left. And when I took him more or less on the left side, he ran et got a right guard. I was completely lost in my own tactics and I was too slow to react. He has already scored 2 Waza ari.
How was it after the Games ?
After Rio, I lived a nightmare for several weeks. It was very, very difficult for me ! I wasn’t aiming a 2nd round at the Games. I was going there to do something better than that. Moreover, to lose against a guy that came up to the -100 kg division just a few months before to qualify, it hurts !
You shouldn’t spoke to me about the Games. I was very tense when somebody did. Even today, when it happens, I see with different eyes, my hands sweat a little. But I am going to make everybody forget that with some new good results.
At the Budapest World Championships for instance ?
My first aim is to have the correct weight, and, then, I will take fight after fight. I hope that, on D day, I will feel good and I will be patient, listening to my coaches.
No matter how hard you trained, no matter how strong you are, if you don’t feel good on D day, it’s going to be difficult ! Of course, that’s the same for everybody.
Is being at the weight a problem for you ?
As my last competition was mid June, it’s easier because I manage my time. Otherwise, when you compete again and again, in the long run, you fed up with it ! But, for these World championships, I am motivated to do it well. There will be no big problems.
« On the last two days, I don’t drink… »
How do you make it ?
My natural weight is 107 kg. I lower nutrient amounts more or less 3 weeks before the championship. I try to have my competition weight during the last trainings. Like this, I get used to fight while being lighter.
Then, during the last days, it becomes drastic. I almost don’t eat and I mainly insist on hydration. That way, on the last two days, I don’t drink but I remain well hydrated thanks to what I drank the days before.
Who are your most dangerous opponent that you had identified ?
All of them ! There is such a high quality level in the -100 kg division since a few years ! And the standard still raises. It’s totally crazy ! Nobody should be understated. You fight a Swedish, a Norvegian, a Russian, whoever… He is going to be very, very strong. So, it’s going to be a tense atmosphere on the mat on September 2nd.
When did your preparation begin ?
We attend a last competition. Concerning myself, it was in Slovenia, for the European Cup (June 18th). Then, we usually start our preparation between 6 and 8 weeks before the competition. We train twice a day when the competition is still far away. The idea is to keep our fighting weight and to do a lot of randoris. We went to Houlgate for that. The French team, the Uzbeks, the Germans, the Brazilians… were there.
On August 6th, we left for the Netherlands to keep the momentum. Afterwards, we stayed in Belgium to work on the last few details. As we get closer to the competition, we only do one training per day, which is less intensive, shorter and based on speed.
To also read :
Toma Nikiforov : « My tatoos mean a lot for me »