Judo is more than a sport for Maxim Rakov. It's a way of life for the world's top-ranked judoka and his entire family on the windswept steppe of Kazakhstan.
"You could say that we are a dynasty," the 26-year-old former world champion said as he prepares for his Olympic debut.
Rakov was trained by his father, a Soviet youth judo champion. His two younger brothers also compete and Rakov hopes his five-year-old son will also, one day, become a champion. "My parents were grafters from a simple family," said Rakov, who currently tops the International Judo Federation's world rankings in the under 100 kg category and is one of Kazakhstan's main gold medal hopes for the London Olympics.
"My father gave me an unbreakable character and a passion for hard work. Perhaps you could even call it fanaticism."
He says he was attracted to the sport for its culture of discipline, respect and self-defence.
"It teaches you respect for your elders, as they have in Japan. Before you step onto the carpet, you must bow to your opponent," he said. "You also aim to carry these qualities into your everyday life."
Rakov watched the 2008 Beijing Olympics at home after a shoulder injury ruled him out of the competition. A year later, he was world champion.
Rakov says he is proud to represent Kazakhstan, a Central Asian state five times the size of France and home to 16.7 million people that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
"It's an honour for every citizen of Kazakhstan to represent his motherland in such competitions," he said. "If you have a good result, if you win, then the whole world will know Kazakhstan. It's a great honour."
Family pride, however, is also at stake. Recently, on the same day that Maxim was winning a Grand Prix event in Germany, his 16-year-old brother, Mikhail, placed third in the national championship in Kazakhstan.
A week later, his seven-year-old brother, Yegor, took second place in a junior contest in Karagandy.