Patai Gergely
2022.11.24 00:43

Taekwondo: Omar Gergely Salim would follow in his father’s footsteps

Omar Gergely Salim, who competed in the 54 kg event, made sports history at this year's World Championships, becoming the first Hungarian taekwondo player to win the world title. The 19-year-old MTK standout told Nemzeti Sport that he is very grateful for the support of the Hungarian people and also revealed what his father and coach Gergely Salim told him before the final.

Omar Gergely Salim is very grateful for the support of the Hungarian people (Photo: AFP)

Have you come to terms with the fact that you made sports history at the World Championships in Guadalajara on Saturday night?
– It's still unbelievable that I won a gold medal – Omar Gergely Salim, who became the first Hungarian world champion in taekwondo at the age of 19, told Nemzeti Sport. – It's an incredible and indescribable feeling when the National Anthem is played for me, these moments are worth working for. Anyone who plays or has played sport knows exactly what I'm talking about.

OMAR GERGELY SALIM
Born:   April 12, 2003; Torrance, CA (United States)
Achievements:   World champion (54 kg, 2022), 2-time European champion )54 kg, 2021, 2022), Olympic 5th place (58 kg, 2021), European Junior Championship 3rd place (45 kg, 2019)
Award:   Hungarian taekwondo player of the Year (2021)

You arrived in Mexico as the third seed and two-time European champion. Did you think you could win the World Championships?
– I would rather say I believed in it because I knew I had done the work, I had improved a lot in the last months, and I had got stronger. Whatever you do in life, you have to believe in yourself, I think that's the key to success. From my first fight to the final, I was focused, I was always thinking about the next opponent, I was always thinking that I could beat anyone.

You started with two easy victories, then won twice in three rounds. Which match was the most difficult on the way to the final?
– I can't pick one because I work hard to win against each of my opponents. In every tournament, the first fights are the hardest because you have to be sharp early in the morning after a short warm-up, when you don't know how you will be on the day. It was a big boost for me to win several rounds early and against strong rivals. I was facing better and better athletes, but my momentum didn't break.

In the final, you fought against César Rodríguez in front of his home crowd, and the hall turned into a veritable devil's playground...
– The Mexican fans created an amazing atmosphere, but perhaps it was more a burden on my opponent's shoulders than anything else. It didn't paralyze me at all. My father laughed and said to me before the final: "Son, everyone in the hall is cheering for you, they want you to be the world champion." I knew he was joking, of course, but when they called me to the mat, I remembered what he had said, and I imagined that the crowd was really supporting me.

After your victory, you jumped into the arms of your father and coach, Gergely Salim, and you two celebrated together. It seemed both of you were emotional. What does this world title mean to you?
There are no words... After the death of my uncle József Salim in April, it was very difficult to get back into training, but the gold medal at the World Championships is some healing for the wounds. After the European Championships, I competed in several competitions, but none of them went really well; maybe I lacked concentration. I had to take a step back and think about how to get back to the form I showed at the European Championships. My father supported me in the most difficult times, so it was a special feeling to celebrate the greatest achievement of my career with him.

You both became European champions for the first time at the age of eighteen and world champions at nineteen. Do you see any chance of surpassing your father's achievements?
– I still have a long way to go because he was an Olympic champion in Danish colors, but I feel I'm on the right track. You can draw some extraordinary parallels between our careers, it's incredible that I, too, am a world champion now. I look up to him and do my best to follow in his footsteps.

Salim in action (Photo: AFP)

The Hungarian sports-loving public is very proud of you; many people on social media are congratulating you on your gold medal. Have you been able to reply to their messages?
– It's a wonderful feeling that my country supports me in everything, I'm grateful for the love I get from the Hungarian people. I try to reply to as many messages as possible, but it's not easy because there are really a lot of messages. Thank you for following the World Championships and cheering me on, I hope my success will contribute to making taekwondo more popular in Hungary.

The Paris Olympics is nearing coming up but assure me that you will have some time to relax.
– Not much, maybe three weeks, and then I'll be back in training to get back in shape for the important competitions. I'm looking for new challenges and I've set myself big goals, no question I want to compete in Paris after Tokyo. But the Olympics is not the most important thing, it's not the gold medals that motivate me, but to enjoy what I do as long as possible. I'm taking it step by step and trying to savor the moments. Right now, for example, I'm savoring the fact that I'm a world champion.

Translated by Vanda Orosz.

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