Athens 2004 A Real Dream of Olympic Gold

Israel's Greco-Roman wrestling coach Lev Chimkind is afraid of the evil eye, so he doesn't want to predict the chances that the senior wrestler in his stable - 86-kilo class world champion Gocha Tsitsiashvili - will bring home Israel's first-ever Olympic gold medal.

Haim Shadmi
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Haim Shadmi

Israel's Greco-Roman wrestling coach Lev Chimkind is afraid of the evil eye, so he doesn't want to predict the chances that the senior wrestler in his stable - 86-kilo class world champion Gocha Tsitsiashvili - will bring home Israel's first-ever Olympic gold medal.

"I'm very cautious," says Chimkind. "I'm that kind of a person. But with Gocha's results this year, who knows. It's only four fights to the final - who knows. To win the world championship at the age of 30 is an exceptional result. Gocha feels the tournament is in his hands. He's among the top six wrestlers in the world. All of them are around the same level, but someone has to win."

Tsitsiashvili's coach declined to talk about his star's weak points. "I don't want to cast the evil eye on him," Chimkind said. "If he succeeds I'll have more to say. I've been to a lot of tournaments all over the world with Gocha, and I've learned that the time to talk is after it's all over."

Tsitsiashvili's wife, Madonna, barely says a word because she hardly speaks any Hebrew, and she hardly goes out of the house. She is surrounded most of the time by her extended family which includes Yaakov Manshirov, who will also be competing at Athens in the under-74 kilo class, and Henri Papiashvili, a former world junior champion in the under-96 kg class.

Tsitsiashvili has promised that after the Olympics he will devote himself to Madonna and their three-year-old son, David.

"Wrestling is about two things - fitness and a clear mind," he says. "A clear mind is when you don't have any troubles, and for that home really helps me. Madonna has suffered a lot with all my trips overseas and training camps. I don't get to help her at all with the kid. The truth is, I don't do anything. Another woman would have kicked me out a long time ago."

Madonna acknowledges: "He only talks, he doesn't do a thing."

Chimkind doesn't speak because of the evil eye, Madonna keeps silent because she doesn't speak Hebrew, and the three-year-old David doesn't speak because he's shy. But Gocha Tsitsiashvili has plenty to say for himself.

"I'll be appearing in the Olympics as world champion. That puts the pressure on me, but it also gives me motivation. I'm ready to take on anybody. There isn't a wrestler out there I'm afraid of. I've done everything that needs to be done. But training alone isn't enough. You need to be on the ball psychologically as well. That's the really hard part. I've been to two Olympics, but missed out on medals at both because of injuries. I came in fourth at Atlanta and sixth at Sydney, but I wasn't happy because I could have won medals. Now I am the world champion and I want to take the gold."

For eight years Tsitsiashvili dreamed of being the world champion. No day dream or fantasy, but a dream that came night after night which ended with him standing on the podium with a gold medal. In the morning Tsitsiashvili would wake up with an aching feeling of disappointment.

"At the 1995 world championship, I missed out on a gold medal by seven seconds," he laments. "Imagine what a disappointment that is. One second you're a world champion, and the next it slips away from you. Since then, that bout has appeared in my dreams all the time. But my dream always ended up with me being crowned world champion. Since winning the world championship, I no longer have that dream." Now, Gocha has another dream.

Tsitsiashvili, a native of Georgia, is currently at a training camp in Ukraine with his personal trainer, Otari Tatishvili. Tsitsiashvili's strategy is to wear down his opponents, for which he needs stamina, speed and strength. Once his opponent has been worn out, two or three moves are usually enough to finish him off.

For speed, Tsitsiashvili works on acrobatic training. For stamina, Tatishvili takes him to the peaks of Georgia, and has him running around non-stop at 2,500 meters above sea level.

"At that height it's difficult to breath, and when you train up there you get used to tough conditions," Tsitsiashvili says. "When you come back down, things are a lot easier.

"Acrobatics is also very important. The more supple you are, the more you become like a cat. At the last training camp, we even played basketball, although not by the usual rules. It was more like rugby. It's important for movement, to know how to move during a bout. You don't need a lot of brute strength. What you need is suppleness and explosive strength. When I draw an opponent who is big and strong, I'm happy because I know I'll beat him. If I draw an opponent who is quick and supple, then I know I'll have a tough time."

Freeing himself from the evil eye, Chimkind says that Tsitsiashvili is an "exceptional athlete. He has brought a lot of honor to Israel. He has won six European and World Championship medals. I hope that if everything works out at Athens he can take first place. I don't want to talk about it with him, because you must not tempt fate before a tournament. But I feel that both our thoughts are the same."

"Keep going, I'm listening," Tsitsiashvili says from the other side of the room.

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