JUDO veteran Yan Naing Soe will have his heart set on the gold when he represents Myanmar on the Olympic stage for the first time in Rio next month – because his first chance will also be his last.
Yan Naing Soe, now 38, started practising judo at the relatively advanced age of 21. But in his seventeenyear career, he’s done more than his share to enrich the Golden Land’s medal cabinet, winning gold medals at the 27th and 28th Southeast Asian Games.
“This Olympic Games in Rio is my first Olympic tournament, but it will also be my last,” Yan Naing Soe told The Myanmar Times. “I decided to retire after the Rio Games because I’m already 38 years old, and because the -100kg category won’t be included in the upcoming Southeast Asia Games in Malaysia,” he added, referring to the 29th iteration of the Southeast Asian competition, to be held in Kuala Lumpur on August 1931, 2017.
“But I’m so satisfied that I will have a chance to compete in the Olympics before I retire. Being an Olympian is the dream of every athlete in the world, and though I can’t hope to win a medal in Brazil, I’ll be trying my best,” he said.
Yan Naing Soe is right to temper his expectations. Over 350 judo athletes will compete in Rio in 14 weight classes (seven men’s categories and seven women’s), for a chance at one of 56 medals. Russia’s judo squad – seven male and four female athletes – will also be compete, having been cleared of connection to the McLaren Report by the International Judo Federation (IJF) on July 26. The independent investigation, which uncovered a state-sponsored doping program to help Russian athletes evade drug-testing, has led to the disqualification of more than 100 Russian athletes from international competitions (see related story page 23). The Russian judo team claimed three golds, a silver and a bronze in the judo competition at the London 2012 Games, including in the gold in the -100 category, which was won by Tagir Khaibulaev.
Yan Naing Soe will be entering the -100kg, or “half heavyweight” category, in Rio. He earned the gold medal in the -100kg at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in August 2015 as part of a Myanmar judo squad that earned seven medals in total. He also took home the gold in the 100kg class at the 27th SEA Games, hosted in Nay Pyi Taw in 2013, one of Myanmar’s 11 judo medals.
Yan Naing Soe has been training at the national judo centre in Nay Pyi Taw. He’ll join the rest of Myanmar’s delegation, which includes seven athletes competing in five sports, to travel to Rio de Janeiro on August 1.
“I started training for Rio right after 28th SEA games, and I am satisfied with how it’s gone. I think the Japanese and [South] Korean athletes will be my biggest opponents at the Olympics. But however it goes, I want to give it my best in my last international competition,” Yan Naing Soe told The Myanmar Times, before adding that he was not planning on pursuing a coaching career in retirement.
Yan Naing Soe previously earned two gold medals, five silver medals and three bronze medals in his international judo career. He also competed at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan in the 73kg category and 2014 Games in Incheon in the 100kg category.
Judo was introduced at the Olympic level at the Tokyo 1964 Games, with competitions in just four weight classes (-68kg, 80kg, 80kg+, and an ‘open category), while women’s competitions weren’t added until the Barcelona 1992 Games.
Yan Naing Soe (blue) throws his opponent at the 27th Southeast Asian Games, in Nay Pyi Taw in 2013, where he earned the gold in the 100kg category.