By the time Sergiu Toma got around to phoning his parents after winning just the UAE’s second-ever Olympic Games medal, it was late into the Brazilian night on August 9.
With mum Iona and dad Nikolay in his native Moldova, it was the early hours of the morning.
A lot has changed in the four years since the 29-year-old Toma competed under the banner of his homeland in London. In Rio he fought under the Emirati flag after becoming a naturalised citizen in the wake of the 2012 Games.
He was a wanted man after beating Italy’s Matteo Marconcini in Rio’s Carioca Arena 2 to claim a bronze medal, conducting media interviews and going through the usual post-competition doping control tests.
Eventually he managed to escape and share his joy with two people who couldn’t care less who he was fighting for, they were just parents proud of their son’s achievement.
“It was my decision to change the country I represent and they respected that decision,” insisted Toma when speaking to media on his return to his adopted homeland.
“They didn’t mind. If my home is here, why should they be angry about it. They were proud of my achievement. They are happy for their child.
“The first thing I did was telephone my parents to tell them thank you for everything. They were celebrating. They were celebrating more than me.”
Aside from his medal, 2016 is already a milestone year for the Chisinau-born Toma. It marks 20 years since he was first encouraged to take up the sport by a friend of his father’s.
“My father’s friend, when I was nine, proposed that I start,” he said.
“This year is 20 years since I started. I love this sport from the first time and in the first competition I was successful so started taking it seriously.”
A meeting of two heavyweights. Started sweating when I asked him for a wrestle pic.twitter.com/b6jHU2Xczs— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) August 22, 2016
Although the Olympics is unquestionably the pinnacle for every athlete who featured in Rio, Toma admits a bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Paris had prepared him for the possibility of success in South America.
“Previously, when I was a bronze medalist at the World Championships, it was unexpected and during the night I couldn’t sleep,” he recalled.
“I woke up in the middle of the night to check the medal was there and that it wasn’t a dream. Now it wasn’t like that, I was ready for it.”
Any athlete who dreams of reaching the top knows discipline and sacrifice is required. Now that his hard work has paid off, Toma admits he can bask in the hue of his bronze.
“The main thing is I can sleep now, I can just enjoy myself. I can feel it and taste it,” he said.
One thing he was perhaps even more grateful to taste after his triumph was treating himself to a meal more befitting an Olympic medalist than the strict and dull regime of kiwi and bananas he had become accustomed to.
Sergiu Toma. UAE bronze Olympic medalist. In the hoooooousse pic.twitter.com/FjsDJ0e1DN— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) August 22, 2016
“Previously my dinner was one or two kiwis or one banana and three kiwis,” he recalled with a smile.
“When I came back to the Olympic Village I could drink some coke and eat some nice food. I had a McDonalds.”
Toma will relax for a few more weeks before heading back to the mat and planning his future. Although McDonalds and junk food may not be a part of his future, one thing definitely is – the 2020 Games.
“In four years’ time I want to be on the pedestal at Tokyo 2020,” he said.
“We will try for gold. I am confident. An Olympic medal was a big, big dream. Now it’s here I feel the confidence in myself and I feel it is possible to get the gold.”
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