Nicolas Messner and Leandra Freitas
IJF Gabriela Sabau / International Judo Federation
Algerian judoka Amar Benikhlef was 2008 Olympic finallist in Beijing. Benikhlef is multiple African Champion in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011 and was inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame in 2018. After his career he became head coach of Algeria. The IJF spoke with the coach about dealing with the Covid situation.
“Concerning our preparation, with the Covid situation, we found a lot of difficulty because we stopped for almost 8 months. We did nothing, because in Algeria everything was closed, total confinement. When we restarted our training we found athletes in very poor condition physically. Some had an impressive weight change. For example our U73 kg judoka came back at 86kg. It was not easy as he is qualifying for the Olympics at U73kg. We put a big nutritional plan in place and a physical training programme was used to bring him down again.
Another big problem is that the air space is closed. For example, to come here we did 8 hours on the road to go to Tunisia and after Tunisia we travelled to Turkey and then from Turkey we flew to Tashkent. It is for this reason also that we were present only in the Masters and in this competition.
We started with a very general physical preparation, to gradually bring our athletes to the right weight and with good health. The National Federation has put at our disposal an altitude training centre, of course with a strict health protocol. Before the training camp, of course, we did PCR tests and unfortunately in our national team we had positive cases; a handful across different camps, which limited what we could actually do in terms of training.
Our preparation was a bit confusing, but now everything is fine. We hope that later, with our senior team, we will be able to train with the Tunisians and the Egyptians, in Algeria or in one of the other countries, to have preparation with more partners and a higher level.
To be honest, motivating the athletes and ourselves, the coaching team, was not easy every day and all the time I try to talk to my athletes so that they stay focused on their main objective, the qualification for the Olympics. Even the federation officials talk with the athletes so that they always stay focused. Of course it impacts everyone, when we look at the news and listen to the global situation, it makes us sad, but sport is definitely a way to overcome all this; sport is healthy!”
Honesty is what characterises the answers that all coaches gave us. Despite the difficulties, they are all ready to work harder than before to help their athletes make their dreams come true.