Armen Nazaryan was my childhood idol, I grew up hearing about his sport exploits. I couldn’t even imagine that years later we’ll remember the brightests and most beautiful chapters of his life, his hard-won achievements and crucial decisions in a friendly and warm atmosphere.
In Mediamax Sport Heroes from the Past series, we present Olympic champion Armen Nazaryan.
Cauliflower ears, coach’s bet, and little raisin
It was little and nimble Armen’s parents who decided he should do sports. To kindle sport fire in him, they suggested he become like renowned Armenian athletes, whose performance the whole family loved to follow together on TV.
“Twice European champion Robert Nersisyan came to Masis and began gathering a team. We all admired Nersisyan and wanted to be like him. We even dreamed to have our ears broken like our coach did,” tells Olympic champion.
Armen got the cauliflower ears he dreamed about very soon, and became the best in the team: “Everyone called Nersisyan "raisin". There were around 40 children in our group, and he instructed everyone to call me the little raisin. That’s how I stayed famous under that nickname in the sport world.”
Inconceivable hardships and first achievements
The rise of Nazaryan’s sport career coincided with deciding and hard times for our country: liberation movement, independence, war. Everything was rather difficult for athletes too in the country that was in a state of transition.
“Practice halls didn’t have heating, the carpet was sometimes covered with ice in winter, but we continued training to carry out our dreams even in such conditions,” tells Nazaryan.
He considers the most important tournament of that time to be European Junior Championship hosted by Turkey. Naturally, people there didn’t want an Armenian athlete to win and have the flag of 3-year-old independent Armenia raised in his honour.
“The organizators did everything to hinder us. They said, don’t even hope for your anthem to play. However, it played twice, in honour of Tigran Mkrtchyan and myself. We showed we were strong Armenians,” tells he.
Olympic heights and unforgettable memories
In 1996 Armen Nazaryan, who was already twice European champion and kept the promise he gave to the coach, went to Olympic Games in Atlanta.
He confesses that he always participated in any tournament with confidence, but it was impossible not to feel fear and anxiety before the Olympiad.
Nazaryan successfully overcame all obstacles on his way and made it to the finals. Armenian athlete was awaited by American Brandon Paulson there, whom he also defeated and became Olympic champion for the first time.
“All my dreams came true on that day, I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I was also infinitely proud, as I brought a very great and important medal for Armenia. On the whole, I won 8 medals for our country.”
Crucial decision and new opportunities
How painful it was for the newly-made Olympic champion to return to Armenian and be greeted by no one! Everybody forgot about him, except for people close to him and his fellow-villagers.
“I don’t like to talk about that, everything is forgotten long ago, but that was very offensive,” says he.
Nazaryan made an extremely difficult and crucial decision at that time. He changed his “sports registration” and began representing Bulgaria. Armenia lost one of its strongest athletes and 14 medals (10 out of them golden), those belong to Bulgaria.
“Bulgaria has been following me since 1994. However, I couldn’t leave Armenia and I said that I haven’t fulfilled my duty to my country yet, I must take part in Olympic Games,” notes Nazaryan.
Olympic trips and the end of career
He didn’t have to wait long for results. A year later, he took the 3rd place in World Championship and consecutively enlarged his medal collection.
Winning golden medals in Olympic Games for Bulgaria was also a matter of principle for Armen Nazaryan. He managed to do that for the second time in Olympic Games in 2002, Sydney.
He put an issue before himself after that: double Olympic champion hasn’t won a golden medal in World Championship, and that was a hard blow to his sport pride. However, Nazaryan completed many a harder goal, and he managed to conquer the “world” for 3 times.
A wife who knows everything about wrestling, and athletic children
Nazaryan thought about starting a family after he moved to Bulgaria, and his choice was the daughter of Armenian Wrestling Federation President.
Armen Nazaryan knew his future wife Inga for a long time. When he first became Armenian champion, he noticed a little girl at the award ceremony.
“Our Federation President has 5 daughters, and 3 of them brought in the medals. I first saw Inga that time, she was probably 4 years old. Years passed, she grew up into a beautiful woman,” says Nazaryan with a sparkle in his eyes.
They have 2 sons and a daughter now. Boys followed their father’s steps and go to wrestling. “All three of them, even my daughter, wrestle at home automatically. The girl is more flexible, she repeats my movements, but naturally I don’t want her to choose wrestling.”
Connection and devotion to Armenia
Armen Nazaryan cannot imagine his life without sport, now coaching takes all his time and energy.
He proudly remembers every chapter of his athletic career, as he did everything in his power to raise sport honour of both Armenia and Bulgaria.
As much as the titled wrestler is honoured and loved in Bulgaria, he remains devoted to Armenia too in his heart, doesn’t forget about the country where he made his first steps and which he’s still tied to by his heritage.
“I’ve been in Bulgaria for 20 years, I have a significant name and reputation. But I cannot be without Armenia too.”
Armen Nazaryan was born in Masis on March 9, 1974. He is 6 times European, three times World and twice Olympic Games champion. He won 23 medals, 15 out of them are golden.
Greco-Roman wrestler represented Armenia up until 1997, then he performed in Bulgarian team.
He was included in the Hall of Fame of World Wrestling Federation in 2007.
He finished his athletic career in 2008 after Olympic Games in Beijing. He was appointed the head coach of Bulgarian Greco-Roman wrestling team in 2012. He was awarded the country’s best coach in 2013.