Russia's Khasan Khalmurzaev celebrates after defeating USA's Travis Stevens during their men's -81kg judo gold medal match in Rio de Janeiro on August 9, 2016Russia's Khasan Khalmurzaev celebrates after defeating USA's Travis Stevens during their men's -81kg judo gold medal match in Rio de Janeiro on August 9, 2016 (AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura)
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Khasan Khalmurzaev of Russia said being born in the Caucasus mountains had helped him win Olympic judo gold in Rio on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old, whose twin brother Khusen is also a fighter, was born in the occasionally restive Russian republic of Ingushetia, deep in the Caucasus and bordering the volatile republic of Chechnya.
According to Khalmurzaev, it is a region that breeds powerful sons.
"It's true, many people born there are physically strong and well prepared," he said.
"Not just people in sports but also those on the streets -- maybe it helps being born in those mountains.
"Wrestling is popular there."
Khalmurzaev maintained his perfect record this year by winning the under-81kg category, taking his victory streak to 20 out of 20 this year.
He beat American Travis Stevens in the final with an inner leg throw for a perfect ippon score.
The European champion secured a vice-like sleeve grip and then countered a desperate lunge from Stevens with a slick rotation to turn his opponent onto his back.
Khalmurzaev wasn't even sure he would come to the Olympics, but said his victory at the European Championships in Kazan in May had convinced Russia's Italian coach Ezio Gamba, the 1980 Olympic champion, to give him the chance.
"I was lucky to compete (in Kazan), it was a big surprise for me to compete at this event but I knew everything was possible and I managed to win the gold medal," he said.
"Even after my victory in Kazan, I wasn't sure I'd go to the Olympics.
"My coach, Ezio Gamba finally believed in me and put me in this team."
It was his father who first introduced the twin brothers to judo, a move Khalmurzaev didn't understand at the time.
"Neither of us understood why it was so important but my father knew. I'm thankful to my father for this decision," he said.
"We always train together. We were in the same category but now Khusen is in a higher category (under-90kg). He's the number two in the national team."
Khusen did not make the Russian squad as Kirill Denisov, a four time world championship medallist and European champion last year, has the spot.
But Khalmurzaev is not bitter and believes his team-mate will also succeed on Wednesday.
"We have the best fighter in Kirill Denisov. My brother knows that. These Games are definitely for Kirill."
- 'We always believe' -
Sergiu Toma, a world and European medallist in 2011 for his native Moldova, won only the second ever Olympic medal for the United Arab Emirates as he took bronze alongside world champion Takanori Nagase of Japan.
Toma is one of three Moldovan judoka representing the Emirates at the Olympics.
"In Moldova it is not so possible like in the Emirates -- a sport career is short," said Toma of his choice to represent the UAE.
"I want to say thank you to the UAE because they give our guys a chance to represent the UAE.
"We always believe and always did all possible to be in the top level."
Victor Scvortov reached the last 16 of the under-73kg category on Monday while Ivan Remarenco will fight in the under-100kg division on Thursday. Both won bronze medals for the UAE at the 2014 world championships.