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3 Ukrainian evacuees join Japan judo event, meet Olympic gold medalists Wolf, Baker

From left, Mashu Baker, Rostyslav Karulyk with two gold medals hanging from his neck, and Aaron Wolf pose for a photo in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sept. 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Motohashi)

HIRATSUKA, Kanagawa -- Three Ukrainian children who are evacuating from the Russian invasion of their home country recently visited Japan to compete in a judo meet, and interacted with Japanese Olympic gold medalists Aaron Wolf and Mashu Baker in this eastern Japan city on Sept. 28.

    Poland's delegation consisting of six Polish judoka, three Ukrainian evacuees in the country and staff members came to Japan to participate in a judo event organized by Tokai University for junior high school students held in the western Japan city of Munakata, Fukuoka Prefecture.

    They were invited to the university's Shonan Campus in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sept. 28 and practiced with Wolf, 26, the men's 100-kilogram champion at the Tokyo Olympic Games, and Baker, 28, the gold medalist in the 90-kg division in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. The Ukrainians said the experience was "amazing" and made them happy.

    Tokai University has accepted judoka delegations from East European countries since the Cold War era. An overseas judo training delegation consisting of students at the university's affiliated high school visited Poland in 2019, and they have continued to interact with judoka in that country. After the university asked them to participate in the junior-high judo meet, a delegation consisting of members selected from judo clubs in the Polish cities of Gdansk and Bytom was formed.

    Tokai University Judo Club's shihan (master) Toru Takeuchi asked his former students Wolf and Baker to take part in the event. The visiting children joined free exercises with both judoka, and they threw each other onto the mat at the martial arts gym on the campus.

    After the practice session, the children posed for commemorative photos with two gold medals hanging from their necks, and had their judo books and belts autographed by the Olympic medalists.

    Rostyslav Karulyk, 15, who fled Ukraine with his father in February, started practicing the martial arts after becoming enthralled by the joy of judo at a local club when he was 6. He apparently won a bout by ippon using a shoulder throw technique in just nine seconds at the Japan meet. He said that training here had been his dream and that he wants to come back to practice judo in the future. He added that he does not intend to go back to Ukraine because he hates war.

    Compatriot evacuees Yurii Olijnyk and Kiril Dachutin, both 13, also said they were thrilled.

    Wolf commented, "I don't know what kind of experiences they had in the war, but I'd be happy if they can boost their spirits by practicing judo with us."

    Baker said, "I was glad to hear from the children that their dream has come true. They were unexpectedly strong, and they fired me up."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Motohashi, Hiratsuka Local Bureau)

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