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To get to the top, lose a few nails

Aug 13,2018
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Judoka An Ba-ul prepares for practice at the National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong, on Friday. [YONHAP]
No pain, no gain, as the saying goes, and for judoka An Ba-ul, feeling pain is usual, especially in his hands.

An, 24, has large finger joints and rough skin. He has also lost many fingernails. Half of his right pinky nail was gone when he was training on Friday at the National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong.

“It detached a few days ago,” An said. “It’s something that frequently happens to me.”

Losing each fingernail means losing some of his grip strength, but whenever such an injury happens, An just wraps his fingers tighter and never stops practicing. That’s how he made his signature move, a shoulder throw, he said. An won three out of five matches on a shoulder throw at the Rio Olympics, where he took home silver.

“It still hurts when I lose my fingernails,” he said, “but if I think of what happened in Rio, it just pushes me to work harder.”

An, who competes in the men’s under-66-kilogram division, was the favorite to win at the Rio Olympics as he entered the competition as the world’s top-ranked judoka. He reached the final by beating rival Masashi Ebinuma of Japan, but in the gold medal contest, An suffered a stunning defeat against then No. 26-ranked Fabio Basile of Italy.

“Before the Rio Olympics, I enjoyed eating lots of snacks such as chocolate, chips and soda, but after I failed to win gold, I significantly reduced the amount,” he said. “Not only did I change my eating habits, I also started improving the technical side of my game.”

For his first Asian Games, An is working on mastering other special moves in addition to his main weapon, the shoulder throw.

“Now, other judokas know very well that I’m good at left shoulder throws,” he said, “but I’m also preparing right shoulder throws as well as two or three other special moves.”

An believes his biggest rival at the Asiad will be Joshiro Maruyama of Japan. The two are tied at two wins and two losses in their head-to-head matches.

“I’m losing lots of fingernails these days, but I’m not going to slow down my training,” he said. “I will probably meet Joshiro in the final, and since an overtime round is expected, I’ll try to focus more on gripping.”

Yonhap