One Australian judo coach who hopes to have at least one of his students representing Australia at the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan is Greek-born, Canberra-based Stephanos Georgiadis, founder and president of the ACT’s Olympia Judo Club.
A former Greek and Australian mid-heavyweight judo champion, and an international competitor for both Greece and Australia, he founded the Olympia club in 2012 and, in its short existence, it has grown from a membership of 12 to 60, with 10 of its members competing at last year’s national titles.
Next weekend, nine of Olympia’s players will compete in the ACT International Open Judo tournament, which attracts competitors from all over the country, and is an important step towards qualifying for this year’s national titles at the Gold Coast in June.
Georgiadis is confident all the club’s representatives at the upcoming ACT IO tournament have as good a chance as any others to qualify for the nationals.
Missing the opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games himself because of injury has given Georgiadis the motivation to coach other elite judo players to achieve their dreams.
“I was a competitor and didn’t manage through injuries to be at the Olympic Games, so my hope and dream is that one day one of the athletes who are now learning the art of judo and the competition secrets through me will represent our country and I can sit on their chair with honour, following them into their dreams.
“I have three good potential players now and I hope we can have a go for 2020. Of course, the qualification process is not easy, especially if you compare with European and Asian countries. Australian judo is unfortunately a bit low in the level of competition. Having said that, I have athletes who are working very, very hard. Their dream is for us to one day see them there. So we’ll have a go with a couple of them for the 20-20. But I’m very confident if those athletes continue with the same passion and respect they have for the sport and the training, we may see one or even two representing Australia in 2020.”
While qualifying for the Olympics in Japan would be a marvellous achievement for both student and coach, history shows a slight medal tally for Australia in the sport, with only two bronze medals − to Theodore Boronovskis in 1964 and Maria Pekli in Sydney 2000.
Georgiadis says Australian judo is disadvantaged for a number of reasons.
“Firstly, the sport is not as popular as soccer or swimming, so that of course restricts the number of people involved with it. We have excellent coaches and talented athletes that already represent Australia and even from the ACT. But promotion of the sport is not big. The athletes are trying to fund themselves to participate in international competitions. This of course restricts their options. So if someone is at that elite level as a soccer player or a tennis player, they have sponsors. They have the ability to participate in a number of international competitions.
“With judo, this is the most important thing. Funds are restricted and options. I had the same experience 30 years ago when I was one of those elite athletes in Greece. And of course, even then we were struggling to get around to competitions. The same scenario I can now see happening here, this time as a coach.”
Georgiadis, who is a 4th Dan Judoka, is tertiary educated with a teaching degree in physical education and sports science, and continues to work hard to further develop his coaching. He recently completed the Level 1 National judo course for coaches run by the International Judo Federation and has now enrolled for the highest course offered, the Level 2 National Judo course.
He also credits another coach at Olympia, the 6th Dan, Cuban-born, Fermin Hernandez as being an important mentor. “For the last four years he has invested a lot of interest in me, forced me and encouraged me to study extra from what I know. He has been an Olympic coach already, which is my dream now.”
The expertise of the Olympia coaching team is being deployed by overseas judo teams, with the Olympia coaches participating in a recent training camp for the visiting English Royal Navy Judo Association Team, which took place in Canberra last month. Georgiadis described the experience as very positive.
“The feedback we had from the English team was so nice. We gave them something different. It was great to see how appreciative they were of the training we gave them.”