A gold medal for Lebanon

13 de julho de 2016

Nacif Elias, a Brazilian-born, Lebanese-naturalized judoka, is competing in the Olympics for the first time. His goal is to get to the top of the podium and to make judo a mainstream sport in the Arab country.

São Paulo – The judoka Nacif Elias was born in Brazil, but the moment the Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro next August 5, he will be fighting for the Lebanese flag. A naturalized Lebanese since 2013, Elias will compete in the Olympics for the first time. He wants to win the gold medal for the Arab country, the land of his great-great-grandparents.

“I’m training harder than ever. I’m ready to bring a medal back to Lebanon,” says the 27 year-old athlete twice voted the best athlete in the country by the Lebanese Olympic Committee, in 2013 and 2014. His training routine is heavy indeed. He begins at 8am and doesn’t stop until 9:30pm, from Monday to Sunday.

Before becoming a naturalized Lebanese citizen, Elias had an outstanding career representing Brazil. He was a national team member for four years through 2013. During that time he was a five-time national champion, a Pan-American champion and a South American champion, among other titles.

His athletic ties with Lebanon date back to 2009, when he was invited to represent that country in the Games of the French Speaking Countries. Since the tournament does not involve the International Judo Federation, Elias was authorized to fight for Lebanon. He finished in second place.

In order to compete in official championships, however, Elias was invited to become a Lebanese citizen. “It was a tough call,” the judoka says, but the offer he got from the Lebanese Judo Federation made it harder to refuse. “Lebanon offered to pay me to enter eight competitions per year, whereas the Brazilian national team would pay for three or four at most,” he says.

Elias spends most of the year training in Vitória, Espírito Santo, where he was born. He travels to Lebanon three or four times a year, where he trains at the Bouddha Gym in Jounieh. According to the athlete, he receives crucial support from the gym and the government. In the Arab country, he also relies on sponsorship from Alfa Telecommunications.

After becoming a Lebanese citizen, Elias won more titles, including second place in the 2014 and 2016 editions of the Asian Games (respectively in South Korea and Uzbekistan), third place in the Pan-American Open Miami (2014), second in the Pan-American Open Montevideo (2015) and champion of the Pan-American Open Lima (2016).

The judoka says his best result yet as a Lebanese was placing second in the 2015 Asian Games, in Lebanon’s best finish ever in that tournament. “It was the best result ever, a very important result for Lebanon,” he says.

His results in Peru, Argentina and Uzbekistan earned Elias a spot in the Olympics. Now, he hopes to do well on the mat in Rio while representing the Middle Eastern country. “In Brazil, I was just another judoka. In Lebanon, I’ve become their hope. I want to be their idol and to bring judo to the forefront of sports in Lebanon,” he asserts.

According to Elias, who competes as a half middleweight, for fighters weighing from 73 kg to 81 kg, his main opponents will be Avtandili Tchrikishvili of Georgia and Takanori Nagase of Japan, respectively the first and second in the world ranking in the category.

But the Arab-Brazilian judoka is confident he can win the title. “Anyone who qualifies has the chance to be the champion. I am focused on getting the Olympic medal. I am bringing home a medal to Lebanon and to all of those who believe in my work,” he says.

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum