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Putin Offers to Join Judo Team

Putin signing an autograph at a St. Petersburg sports school Friday. Alexei Druzhinin

Black-belted Vladimir Putin has offered to join the national judo team after showing off his martial arts skills to members of the squad.

The 57-year-old prime minister made the proposal at a special coaching session Friday that was aired on state television, adding to his carefully-crafted macho image.

Putin entered the hall of St. Petersburg’s School of Sport Mastery dressed in a white judogi and black belt, to applause from the assembled squad. After bowing, he went onto the mats, throwing squad members half his age and even tackling the chief trainer, Olympic gold medalist Ezio Gamba.

Then, over tea and cakes, Putin made the suggestion. “If you need direct help, you can include me in the team,” he told the trainer, an Italian who won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Officials praised Putin’s technique in the Japanese martial art and dismissed any hint that he may have been allowed to win. “He has the psychology of a winner, the psychology of the victorious,” said Georgy Kukoverov, the school’s chief.

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