A number of promising Mongolian athletes have renounced their Mongolian nationality to seek advancement in their career, gain better chances of success, and better pay. The most well-known of such athletes are Labor Hero and yokozuna Hakuho M.Davaajargal, who decided to relinquish his Mongolian nationality after extending his career championship haul to 42, State Honored Athlete D.Munkhbayar, who is celebrated as a legendary shooter, and two-time World Judo Champion G.Otgontsetseg, who scored a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
They might have switched their citizenship but they are still beloved by the Mongolian people. Foreign flags are raised for them now but sports enthusiasts know that Mongolian-born athletes are raising them. The athletes too admitted that they can’t cut off their ties with their home country.
Let’s learn more about these successful athletes in the following article.
G.Otgontsetseg – The face of Kazakh judo team
Many strong judokas emerged in the women’s 48 kg weight class from Mongolia. Mongolia’s first female World Champion M.Urantsetseg and Olympics bronze medalist G.Otgontsetseg have been bitter rivals in this weight class.
Between 2013 and 2016, the two judokas faced each other in the finals of the Asian Judo Championships six times, each with three win streaks. But M.Urantsetseg is not only two years older than G.Otgontsetseg but is seen as having better technique and often became the victor in most tournaments, as proven by their later showdowns. In other words, G.Otgontsetseg ranked second in the women’s 48 kg weight class in Mongolia. This meant fewer opportunities for her to compete in large international championships.
Sport is often regarded as young people’s game, when you’re beaming with passion, stamina and vigor. Every athlete dreams to succeed and achieve glory for themselves and their home country. That is why G.Otgontsetseg decided to take when the opportunity to do so presented itself.
The Kazakhstan Judo Federation made an offer to the young talent in 2015 and she was naturalized as a Kazakhstani citizen at the age of 23 later that year.
In a 2017 interview, she talked openly about her decision to change nationality.
She said, “I never imagined that I would become an athlete of another country, where I don't know anyone or anything about the culture or language. I didn't just agree to their proposal. I thought about it for a long time and discussed it with my family. My family told me to do whatever I want because it was my decision to make.”
“Since the Mongolian team has M.Urantsetseg in the women’s 48 kg, it had nothing to lose, but I had to reach my objective to compete in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics somehow. That’s why I decided to take up Kazakhstan’s offer. They didn't make an offer to just me, but also to my coach, which greatly impacted my final decision.”
After naturalization, athletes are not allowed to represent their “new” country in international competitions for three years, but G.Otgontsetseg was standing as a Kazakhstani judoka a year later on the podium of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. That year she won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee initially denied the naturalized athlete’s right to compete in the Olympic Games as she had not represented Kazakhstan in the previous three years. However, the committee retracted their decision and gave a special permission to enter the Olympic Games as she swiftly rounded up her medals.
“I was devastated when I heard I wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics because I’d already met the requirements. I thought that I had no choice but to wait for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics,” G.Otgontsetseg said. “Before the Olympics kicked off in Rio de Janeiro, I took part in 12 competitions and won medals in 10 of them. After I became the Asian champion and won the Grand Prix Almaty 2016, the International Olympic Committee notified me in May 2016 that I was allowed to compete in the Olympic Games for high achievement in short period of time.”
The young judoka admitted that she had mixed feelings about relinquishing her Mongolian nationality at first but was relieved that she could fulfill her objective to compete in the Olympics.
“Had I not changed my citizenship, I might not have been able to enter the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, let alone win a medal. That thought comforts me. I feel relieved and happy to have been able to repay and show my gratitude to the Kazakh people by winning an Olympic bronze medal. I wanted to win since I had won most of the competitions I participated in that year, so I was upset when I lost to Japanese judoka Ami Kondo,” she stated.
Since renouncing her Mongolian nationality, the 28-year-old judoka has become the face of the Kazakh national judo team for the women’s 48 kg. On top of winning the 2015 Jeju Grand Prix, 2016 Grand Slam of Paris, 2016 Grand Slam of Abu Dhabi, she claimed an Olympic bronze medal for Kazakhstan. She also seized World Championships bronze in 2017 in Budapest, and in 2018, in Baku. Last year, she took gold at Zagreb Grand Prix, silver at Antalya Grand Prix, and bronze at Judo Grand Slam in Paris.
‘Queen of precision’ D.Munkhbayar
Two-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist shooter D.Munkhbayar was the first Mongolian woman to win an Olympic medal and the first person to seize an Olympic medal for Mongolia in shooting sport.
The historic moment took place on July 27, 1992 at the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. The State Honored Athlete and former member of the Mongolian national shooting team won bronze in the women’s 25 meter pistol event.
In addition to her many firsts, the “queen of precision” was the first Mongolian athlete to renounce her Mongolian citizenship to naturalize as a German.
D.Munkhbayar has competed at six Summer Olympic Games. She represented Mongolia at the 1992 Summer Olympics, 1996 Summer Olympics, and 2000 Summer Olympics. After switching her citizenship, the Mongolian-born shooter represented Germany at the 2004 Summer Olympics, 2008 Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics. She won the 1998 ISSF World Shooting Championships in 10 meter air pistol and the 2002 ISSF World Shooting Championships in 25 meter pistol. She also won gold in the Milan leg of the 2009 ISSF World Cup in the women’s 25 meter pistol category. At the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, D.Munkhbayar gained her second Olympic bronze medal for Germany.
Even today, many people remember the two legendary shooters of Mongolia standing on the Olympics podium – Labor Hero O.Gundegmaa with a silver medal around her neck and Mongolian-born D.Munkhbayar representing Germany with a bronze medal around her neck.
Back then, the Mongolian public didn’t understand D.Munkhbayar’s decision and their perspective of her completely changed as they didn’t get much information about it and she was a shining star of the Mongolian team.
A few years later, she gave an interview to Unuudur about changing her citizenship. Although the German side made an unconventional offer of dual citizenship, D.Munkhbayar said she chose to naturalize as a German citizen for the sake of her daughter.
She said, “To quickly make me their own athlete, the German side immediately welcomed me into their national team. And so, I started a fresh from then on. It wasn’t that difficult to adjust as I had already lived in Germany for five years then. There’s no such thing as using one’s connections to enter a competition in Germany, unlike the situation in Mongolia back then. Whoever is the best get the chance. They didn’t treat me differently because I was Mongolian either.”
The athlete also talked about the hardships she went through after getting naturalized.
“It was upsetting to see some people look from one side only and deny me of all the achievements I had made for my country. At the time, practically all tabloids were twisting their stories about me, causing many readers to badmouth me. It brought me to tears to think that I had put in so much effort just to be insulted like that. No matter how much I denied all of the rumors from all the way from Germany, it was no use,” she said. “Back then, people didn’t understand that I had joined the German team to show the world what Mongolians can do. I was young so I got angry, upset and frustrated. But now, I can handle most accusations and rumors.”
Despite the backlash from some people, many are still proud of her and all of the achievement she made. She too said that she’d be proud to have served Mongolia even at her last breath.
At the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, D.Munkhbayar officially announced her retirement to become a coach. She’s now coaching the Indian youth shooting team. One of her students, Rahi Sarnobat, won a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, becoming the first Indian shooter to seize gold at the Asian Games, along with World Championship and international titles. Sarnobat even set a new record at the Asian Games and qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games.
The Mongolian Shooting Sports Federation made a job offer to D.Munkhbayar in 2017 but as she was still signed with the Indian team, she had no choice but to reject. She says she might consider if the federation makes another offer after the upcoming Olympics.
Almighty Sumo Champion Hakuho
The most recent top athlete to relinquish his Mongolian nationality is no other than the invincible yokozuna Hakuho M.Davaajargal, who seized the record for most titles with 42 championships. Unlike what happened to D.Munkhbayar, M.Davaajargal’s naturalization to a Japanese national was supported by the public as it was inevitable for him in order to accomplish his life-long dream.
For years M.Davajargal had expressed his desire to become a stable master as “ichidai toshiyori” – the lifelong status of elder conferred on an outstanding yokozuna who won at least 20 Emperor Cups. However, this wasn’t possible as he was a foreigner, according to the Japanese Sumo Association. Set on his dream, the second Mongolian-born yokozuna acquired Japanese citizenship on September 3 last year. He took up his ring name, Hakuho Sho, as his Japanese legal name.
“Today, I -- finally and formally -- acquired Japanese citizenship. I have carried Mongolia on my shoulders until now. But from now on, two countries will fall on my shoulders. That adds some weight to my feelings,” he said on the day it was announced.
Many sports enthusiasts and commentators expressed support for Hakuho’s decision as it would open new opportunities for him and Mongolian young people in the sumo world as well as help him keep making history.
Hakuho went to Japan at the age of 15 in 2000 and made his debut at the spring sumo tournament the following year. After the summer tournament in 2007, he was promoted to yokozuna, the highest rank of grand champion. Now, he is considered one of the greatest yokozunas in the history of sumo.
Despite getting naturalization, the yokozuna has decided to remain active and compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. But he has already scouted young wrestlers to join his own stable, Miyagino. He plans to take them with him after his retirement when he becomes a stable master.
At the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March this year, Hakuho won his 44th top division win with a 13-2 record. On the last day, he faced fellow yokozuna Kakuryu M.Anand with both having a 12-2 score, the first time in seven years that two yokozuna had faced each other in the final match of the tournament with an identical record. His victory took place in an empty arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time since 1945 that a tournament had been held without paying spectators.