If the weather allows it, the wrestling tables will be placed outdoors in the central plaza
Assen Hadzhitodorov is President of both the World Armwrestling Federation and the Bulgarian national Federation. He became head of the world federation after hotly contested 2012 elections in Brazil, defeating the then incumbent president – the Canadian Fred Roy. The elections were held before the world championship in armwrestling in Sao Vicente, with contestants from 42 countries taking part. Assen is the first European representing a country outside North America to take charge of the world federation in the entire history of armwrestling. Assen Hadzhitodorov has been involved with sports since childhood – alpine skiing, football, gymnastics, then getting “hooked” on armwrestling. He took charge of the Bulgarian Federation in 1995 and since then this sport has been developing at a very high level in our country, winning new fans all the time. In April Assen Hadzhitodorov will come to Belogradchik together with 150 of the best Bulgarian players, who will compete against each in the now traditional Belogradchik tournament. We discussed with Assen Hadzhitodorov interest in this sport and latest developments concerning the national Federation.
When does your interest in armwrestling date back to?
Ever since I was a child – everyone wanted to show who’s strongest so we fought at school all the time. I practiced gymnastics, which is also a power sport. Thus we started fighting but back then we neither knew what the rules were, nor had proper tables to stage our fights on as they do nowadays. We just used the school desks and tables to fight on. In 1993 we made contact with the World Armwrestling Federation. We received the laws of the game, the requirements, we made competition tables with elbow holds and restrictors for the level you can bend the opponents arm to, with a grip to be held by the free hand. Since 1995 we started participating in European and global tournaments. This is how this sport kicked off in Bulgaria.
How many clubs and players are members of the Bulgarian Armwrestling Federation?
More than 30 clubs in all the bigger cities and they are developing the sport in all divisions – cadets, disabled people, men, ladies, even veterans. Thus everyone willing to take up the sport may choose the relevant division to compete in. Currently more than 600 persons train at the Bulgarian Federation’s clubs.
Is this sport becoming more popular outside Canada and North America where it has longstanding traditions?
It is now debatable whether it is most popular there. I can safely say that in Europe we have long ago overtaken them in terms of media coverage, and the players’ level is much higher as well. With each passing day armwrestling is becoming more and more popular since it is an attractive sport and easy to practice. Maybe this is the most widely practiced sport after football but the fact that it is still not an Olympic discipline is keeping its publicity down somewhat. But the sport is getting more popular all the time, with more and more people and media taking interest.
What qualities does armwrestling require?
As with all sports, one needs to be tenacious and persistent, have ambition and goals and pursue them. Naturally, in armwrestling the arm’s structure plays a very important part. Speed and cunning are also required – purely mental factors, which are very important in other sports as well but are particularly crucial in one-on-one fights where you face the opponent on your own and have to teammate to bail you out. Self-confidence, belief in one’s strengths, and motivation are necessary as well in armwrestling.
Like in chess where opponents face off similarly over the table?
Yes, the thinking is similar to that in chess. But to expand the comparison – if you have to move pieces, it’s like each is weighing 50 kilos.
Women will also compete at the forthcoming tournament in Belogradchik. Is interest in armwrestling on the rise among the gentle gender too?
We have always had ladies’ categories. Bulgaria has a three-time world champion– Veronika Bonkova, who won the world title in 2001, 2002 and 2007. She will also compete at the Belogradchik tournament.
Everyone’s first expectation of the contestants is that they are some big, sizable women. Actually, there are categories at every 5 kilos, we have contestants weight 50 kilos. In most cases the contestants have perfect bodies and look impressive since they are actively practicing sports.
Tell us more about the forthcoming tournament in Belogradchik.
This is the tournament’s third edition and it can now be referred to as traditional. The previous two times the tournament was held in the public library. Now have the ambition to do it outdoors, in the plaza, as long as the weather is good enough to allow this. It will also be an attraction for the visitors of Belogradchik – to see the head-to-heads of more than 150 contestants from Bulgaria and Romania, including several world and European champions. I expect all hotels in town to be full on these off-days – we are arriving with 150 contestants, Federation referees, technical secretaries. I hope the tournament will continue in the years to come as well, we are looking forward to the new sports hall in the town.
Are there any contestants from Belogradchik itself?
Last year there was a cadet, who took everybody by surprise and finished third. We’ll see what happens this year.
What’s on the agenda after the tournament?
This is the last check-up and serious training exercise for the national team before the European championship, which will be held from May 5 to May 13 in Lithuania. Our best players will be able to see how advanced they are in their preparation and whether anything needs adjustment during the last two weeks before the European championship. Immediately after the tournament the training camp of our best players will resume.
What are the curious facts in the sport, the longest and the shortest fight?
The epitome of a long fight was a match in 1999 involving Tsetso Gashevski and a Japanese guy in the USA some ten years ago. It lasted about seven minutes. The shortest one lasted 7 hundredths of a second. 4 years ago we hosted a European championship where a Swiss guy and a Ukrainian guy had a very long fight – some 12 minutes but there were 3 breaks as well.
What is the prehistory of armwrestling?
It’s hard to say. Back in ancient Greek sculptures there are statues of athletes arm-wrestling. The World Federation was established in America in 1967. Thus, the Americans made the opening chapter of armwrestling as a sport. It is sometimes shocking but when you talk to the Japanese about armwrestling they would claim that this is an ancient Japanese sport like the sumo and that this is their national wrestling. Russians also claim armwrestling as “their national sport, Albanians have a claim as well ….
But the Canadians gave it its name.
It is referred to as “Canadian” wrestling in Bulgaria only, which is surprising our counterparts from other countries where the sport is referred to as “Armwrestling”. One of the assumptions why it’s called Canadian wrestling in out country has to do with Jack London’s novels.
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