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03 august 2021
Ana-Maria Ciobanu. If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
An interview with Ana-Maria Ciobanu, a world-class sambo master. Active Life column, supported by Jaguar.


Following our discussion with Ana-Maria, I thought I would like to write an interview not so much about her list of victories in international competitions, but rather about her emotions. At a table in a café, Ana-Maria looked the least like a fighter in the classical sense. The 52kg weight class, in life, means an almost frail girl.

Why would I write about Ana's emotions? I've seen women talk fervently about traveling. I've seen them dreaming of jewelry, houses, or cars. But this is the first time I've met a girl who dreams of competing at sambo competitions “just a little bit more”.

What is there to say, if after giving birth to a baby, before she even got back on the mat, Ana-Maria traveled at her own expense to Moscow, Athens, and Bucharest only to watch the championships and world cups. Since the Sambo Federation is not the richest sports federation in Moldova, Ana-Maria sometimes traveled to competitions at her own expense. 

By the end of the interview, I asked her what she would do after the competition period was over. She answered without hesitation, “I will coach children.”


Ana-Maria, the first question might seem odd but why Sambo and not Judo? Judo seems much more popular...

I started with judo first. But when I was 19, I had the opportunity to compete in sambo because the rules for judo and sambo were still very similar. My family helped me collect the money for the competition and off I went.

What was your result?

I was the third in the weight category up to 56 kg. People told me I had potential, so I started thinking seriously about sambo. Although, I had practiced judo for a while before I graduated high school. Somehow, sambo is closer to my spirit, and, but only don't smile... I'm still a woman and I like sambo attire better. It's more feminine than the kimono. 

Did you continue competing for Moldova at sambo after graduation? 

I won the national championship, but after graduation, my friend told me about the possibility of studying in Romania and competing there. That's how I got to the world championship in Greece, as a Romanian samba player. By the way, it was the first competition that my mother had watched live from the stands. She lives in Thessaloniki, Greece, and the world championship was also held in Thessaloniki.

Why didn’t you stay in Romania?

For personal reasons. I returned to Moldova, had a baby in 2016, and took quite a long break from training and competing. Though, the temptation to come back was very strong. Then, after two years, I slowly started training myself and even went to competitions as a spectator. I went to see the World Cup in Moscow, the European Championship in Greece and the World Cup in Bucharest.

And how did you feel being a simple spectator?

The only thing I wanted was to get out on the mat. In fact, in 2019 the Federation didn't consider me a promising athlete, so I saved some money and started competing for Moldova at my own expense.

But as a member of the team?

Obviously. The Federation doesn't send athletes to all weight classes and even though I went at my own expense, I was declared as a Moldovan competitor.


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I have no comments. Moldova might not be the richest country in the world, and this is true not only for sambo. That’s what we have. So what were the results after you got back on the mat?

No miracles happened. In February 2019 I lost in Minsk for third place. Then in March, we failed in Moscow, because of refereeing. As for the European Championships in Spain, I simply didn't have time to raise money.

But you didn't give up, did you?

That's when I decided that I would compete at the World Championships in Korea in 2019. Whether the Ministry would give me money or not, I knew I would do my best to complete...

Did you make it to Korea?

I did. And God knows I cried for this championship more than for all the other championships put together...


I was supposed to compete in the weight class under 52 kg. And suddenly, 10 days before the championship, the coach assigned another girl to that weight class, and the Ministry paid for her...

How did you react? What is the difference among your categories?

Four kilos. It's almost suicide for me to compete in the 56 kg. Those who have a training weight of about 60 kilograms compete in this category. I'm too "small" to compete with them. Therefore, I decided to go to 48 kg and began losing weight as quickly as I could. Everything went crazy from that point.

Did you manage to lose weight?

No, I didn't. I got to 49kg and didn't qualify. All I could do was cry. The weigh-in judges sent me to perform at 52kg, but our Moldovan was already there. I had to either refuse to perform or go to 56kg at my current weight of 49.

All girls obsess about losing weight in a hurry, and you were obsessed about adding...

Besides that, I can’t stand Korean food, but I had to eat anything just to get to 56kg as fast as possible. I wouldn't even think about sports diets.

And you've got to weigh up to 56 kilos?

I weighed 50,900...At the weigh-in, they said, “Girl, you missed your weight. The 52kg category was yesterday.”

And then?

And then I decided that I would fight in the 56kg category regardless of my weight.

Did your family support your decision?  

Well, to be honest, I cried before I stepped out on the mat. My coach wasn't very happy with my decision either and even banned me from competitions. Nevertheless, I went out on the mat. Moldova had nothing to lose anyway, as we had no medals before my performance. So I went out on the mat intending to "save the team"...


I lost to a Russian fighter in the final, so I got to third place at the World Championships.

Admirable, my congratulations! Have you tried competing in more commercial fights? Like grappling?

I even became a Moldovan Grappling champion when I won against Donna Kehl, although nobody expected that from me. However, sambo appeals to me more. Currently, I am an active competitor and my main dream remains the European Games Cup in 2023. Only after that, could I start coaching. At the moment I'm coaching children in Cimislia and I really enjoy training them. Coaching is one of my professional options for the future. The title of Master of International Class is a good starting point for working as a coach.

One final curiosity: due to a more “feminine” sambo fighting outfit, I noticed a phrase tattooed just below the edge of the shorts, but couldn't discern it. What does it say?

“If there is no struggle, there is so progress.”

Pavel Zingan

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