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Interviewing an Olympic champion is something special and always delivers thought-provoking words and ideas; it’s a unique kind of education. Sharing those thoughts and memories is imperative and so following the stories of the first 9 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Arsen Galstyan, 2012 Olympic champion in the -60kg category.
What winning an Olympic gold medal feels like.

We introduced the statistics, the almost impossible feat and the question in our first article in the series, which can be found here:

A reminder of the question:

It could be said that to be in the company of an Olympic judo champion is to be presented with someone whom has reached an absolute pinnacle, a ceiling which cannot be surpassed; there is nowhere further to ascend in the world of sport. We often find Olympic champions speaking with freedom and certainty, unafraid to share an opinion, speaking of their lives and paths with confidence. For many we feel there is peace, and that can be magnetic and inspiring.

So the question is, did they become Olympic champion because of that character or did they become that person having won the Olympic gold medal?

“It’s not only about character because that part is only to do with me; there are so many other factors, external things which can have an impact in performance and progression.

In the beginning, during my youth, it was necessary to find a very good coach who can teach me and in my case this was Igor Ramanov. I was with him from the beginning to the end but of course I also had national coaches in addition."

L-R: Hiraoka, Galstyan, Kitadai and Sobirov

"My parents supported me with all they had. There was of course a financial part and if sometimes they seemed to have no possibility with that side of things, they tried hard, worked hard and had to do a lot to find the right money for me to have the chance to continue. When I started at the age of 9, my parents were working in the market from early morning to the evening to create opportunities for their children, including me. Three judoka brothers are not cheap to sustain with clothes and food and all other necessities, even before we speak about the cost of judo.

I always loved sport. My father was an athlete and my brothers too. I was good in all sports like football and others and my father was a pro’ football player. I was able to play volleyball and all sorts. It was at 13 or 14 that I won the cadet championship of Russia and chose judo."

The London 2012 -60kg final.

"In terms of my character, the first point was that I needed to be calm and have patience. I think this is first because it’s a very hard sport and the path is very challenging. To get to the top is close to impossible; not many can have this patience.

I always want to improve and to be better at what I do. Eventually I guess I also wanted to become Olympic champion and I guess that by reaching that goal it is the proof that I improved! If I did that I must have become better.

There have been a lot of great athletes who have won big medals but most couldn’t be Olympic champion. For example, Rishod Sobirov (UZB), such an amazing athlete, so strong. It was a surprise, for sure, for me to win. Sobirov was the strongest on the planet and I fought him a lot. I knew his judo and how he trained. I still don’t know how it happened that day for me to be first. My opinion is that maybe to be an Olympic champion, the planets or stars must align."

Losing to Sobirov (UZB) in the final of the 2011 Masters, Baku.

"You know, when I was fighting I didn’t specifically expect him to be the champion because I really wanted it and at the time I was focussed on myself but once I knew him as a person afterwards, so well, I really believed it could have been him, he’s the right person for that title.

There are so many hard things in judo. First there is the discipline, the need to pass the barrier of laziness. Maybe a lot of people find it difficult to pass this line consistently and for long enough; maybe that’s one place where my patience played a part. There is pain and there are injuries but I had a target and I had to keep going. All the time you have to spend training to get to that point, not seeing family and friends, it’s a big sacrifice that again requires patience and calmness. This is especially hard when you are young and it can look boring while your friends are having fun.

I’m very happy to know, from them, from my parents and friends and near ones telling me, that I didn’t change after winning that medal. I am the same person. So perhaps it is the combination of my own patience, calmness and willingness to push through the barriers of laziness and pain, combined with early opportunities from my parents and also the very important factor of having a good team and the right atmosphere within it, that took me to that achievement.”