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From Watching in the Corner to Competing at Special Olympics World Games: Alla Makarova Makes an Impact in Berlin

Two judo athletes with their arms entwined during match.
Alla Makarova and SO Switzerland athlete battle it out on judo mat

Alla Makarova is an Special Olympics Uzbekistan athlete who had a unique way of entering her field of sport. The 21-year-old is competing at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 in judo, but she did not always know that this level of sport competition was possible for her to reach, let alone partake in.

Makarova grew up in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan where she lived near a local boy’s judo training club. With great interest in the sport, Makarova would sneak into the back of the club to watch the boy’s training and often practice the same moves on her own in an out-of-sight corner of the gym. As time passed and Makarova continued to secretly watch training sessions, she picked up her initial knowledge, skill and love of the sport. One day, the boy’s judo coach caught her practicing on her own and instead of telling her to leave, he invited her to join the group practice. It was not long after Makarova’s first training session with the boys that she began to excel in the sport. Soon enough, she was showing the boys new moves and found herself in a place where she was thriving.

Judo athletes smiles towards fans
Makarova smiles after winning her judo match at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.
Two athletes in close contact on judo mat
Makarova takes on competitor from SO Switzerland

Although new to the male-dominated sport, the coach and boys she started to train with welcomed her with open arms. Makarova now regularly competes in her home gym and around Uzbekistan against others who also want to continue to get better in judo.

Makarova has now been a Special Olympics judo athlete for five years with Berlin 2023 as her first World Games experience and she has noted the positive change judo has caused in her life. She believes judo has helped her to overcome personal challenges by making her fearless and giving her the skillset she needs to take on other difficulties in life. With her understanding of judo at such a high level, Makarova wants to take her love of the sport and pass it on to others, “I really like playing sports. In the future I want to become an assistant coach and help educate future champions.”

So far at World Games, Makarova has competed against SO Germany (0:10), SO Sweden (10:0) and SO Switzerland (0:10) athletes in the F33a division of women’s level 1 Judo and against SO Sweden (10:0) and SO Switzerland (0:10) athletes at the F25b division of women’s level 2.

Judo athlete bowing towards fans in the stands
Makarova bows to fans after match

Special Olympics Judo

Judo, meaning “the gentle way” in Japanese, is anything but gentle. Competitors have three minutes to subdue their opposition on the 18m x 18m mat before a victory can be decided. To win one must earn a point, ippon, by throwing their rival to the floor with force and control. Half points, called waza-ari, can combine for ippon and two waza-aris or ippon wins a judo match.

The martial arts sport is a strategic and quick competition that takes both patience and aggression to get the final nod of victory from the referees at the end of the three-minute period. Judo is also a respect-driven sport as the competition is defined by the strict rules of respecting all those involved from officials and competitors to coaches and fans. Respect is shown through a number of bows before and after a match between the competitors and then also towards the officials. Additionally, the coaches bow to one another before each match to acknowledge each other’s, and their athletes’, efforts and skill.

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