TAMÁS NEDELYKOV from Tokyo 2021.07.23 18:11 Frissítve: 2021.07.23 18:12

Ibrahimovic roots for Hungary’s 18-year-old hope

18-year-old Omar Salim hasn't lost a match among the adults so far, and he's not giving up on that in Tokyo either. He and his father, Danish Olympic champion Gergely Salim, formed a winning pair.

Family bond is their strength (Photo: István Mirkó/Magyar Nemzet)


It's always special when a parent is also their child's coach. Didn't it have a negative impact on your relationship?
Gergely Salim: It's true that we have a more personal relationship than others, but I can separate coaching and father roles. As a father, I can support him primarily emotionally, while as a coach I focus mainly on his technique. I know from my own experience that a coach often can't feel what's going on in his or her athlete. I believe that a strong family bond will only help us work together. I'll see it right away if he's irritated, and I know when to step back. If a coach doesn't see that, the trust between the competitor and the coach can easily break.

Born:  April 23, 2003; Torrance, CA (United States)
Clubs:  MTK Budapest
Coach: Gergely Salim
Sport:  taekwondo (58kg)
Best achievements: European champion (54kg, 2021), Junior Pan American Games winner (45kg, 2019, Junior European Championships bronze medalist (45kg, 2019)

Is your father a strict coach?
Omar Salim: Not really. It's quite the opposite. After a winning game, I'm pumped up, but he's calm, and he doesn't even talk to me. I have to ask him to give me some advice so that I can perform even better next time.

Did it soon become clear that you will also choose taekwondo?
O. S.: It was the sport I got to know first as a child, but I also had many other choices. For example, I tried running, motocross or mountain biking, but in the end, like Dad, I ended up with taekwondo.

What is Omar's true strength?
G. S.: 
Sometimes, I'm surprised at how well he sees through matches, even under pressure, and I'm not saying this because he's my son. He doesn't have as much experience yet, but he performs like the much-seen contestants. Coaches usually give different advice about opponents, highlighting their weaknesses or even their strengths, but in Omar's case, that's not necessary. Everyone at this level is strong and fast, but it's rare that someone is able to read the game that well.

Experts also point out that you don't stop even for a moment. You still go forward when you're in the lead.
O. S.:
That's true. It's also related to what Dad just mentioned. I don't talk about my own strengths, but it's true that the reason I can be so confident is because I see through situations.
G. S.: 
The peculiarity of our sport is that whoever leads the match can afford more. However, one shouldn't relax even for a moment and give the opponent the opportunity to catch up. That's our style; we try to build the advantage, and we only step back when something really doesn't work out.

Salim Omar has not lost a match among the adults so far (Photo: István Mirkó/Magyar Nemzet)

How much did you hesitate to send Omar and not his brother Sharif to this year's qualifying tournament?
G. S.:
Sharif had a fantastic performance the previous year, but after that he was more affected by the pandemic. Something was missing in his matches, he lost focus, so we decided to give Omar a chance. It wasn't a one-man decision; we sat down and talked about it together.

Did your brother get used to the situation easily?
O. S.:
My brother and I support each other under all circumstances. All that matters is that one of us can participate in the Olympics. Maybe he was even happier that I qualified. In training, he gives it his all to help me prepare. If I were him, I'd do the same thing. It's also true that if the Games had been held last year, I wouldn't have been strong enough for the weight class.

 Omar Salim is the first Hungarian taekwondo practitioner at the Olympics after 21 years. In the Salim family, Omar is the third person to compete in the Games: his father Gergely won gold in Danish colors in 1992, while his uncle József finished fifth in Sydney.

Do you feel the increased expectations that many people are hoping for a medal from you?
O. S.: I try not to deal with it, but I'm grateful for all the support. Before the competition, I rule everything out, and I'm just concentrating on my job. Everything will be as it should be.

One of the toughest opponents comes first.
G. S.: Omar is currently ranked pretty low in the rankings because it's his first year among the adults. The pairs were also determined on this basis, so Vito Dell'Aquilla, who is second in the rankings, awaits Omar. They're both going to have a hard time because Omar is more technical while the Italian is physically stronger, but I feel like that that alone won't be enough for him to beat my son.

Are the goals unchanged?
O. S.: 
Yes. While I'm there, I'll do everything I can to finish the competition with a gold medal.

They are also careful to keep the physical distance in the Athletes’ Village (Photo: István Mirkó/Magyar Nemzet)

Do you think you'll get a congratulatory message from Zlatan Ibrahimović?
O. S.:
I'm sure he will support me regardless of the result. We also stayed in touch after he left Los Angeles.
G. S.: When Zlatan moved to the United States, he contacted us because he had previously practiced taekwondo in Sweden. He‘s a real superstar, but at the same time a very nice person; many people don't know his true personality. I've seen it many times that if the fans approached him respectfully, he liked spending extra time with them.

To finish off with another bad news for the opponents. Is it true that your daughter is even more talented than Omar and his brother?
G. S.: 
I have two daughters who are both younger than the boys. One of them is a European U12 champion and is on the right track. She already understands at this age how to build up a match or how to talk to the coach. If she doesn't feel comfortable with something, she speaks up. If she keeps this up, the limit is the sky for her.

One of Gergely Salim's daughters and Ibrahimović 


3am: men 58kg, until the semi-finals (Omar Salim), women 49kg, until the semi-finals
In it: Omar Salim–Vito Dell'Aquilla (Italy), eighth finals, 5.20am

men 58kg, repechage, bronze match, final; women 49kg repechage, bronze match, final
Times are in Hungary time (CET)

Translated by Vanda Orosz

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