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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. Following the stories of the first 13 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Elnur Mammadli, 2008 Olympic champion in the -73kg category.
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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?

“I became Olympic champion because of my mum, she always inspired me, always motivated me towards my goal to be Olympic champion. In 1992, Huseynov was the first Olympic champion for Azerbaijan but it was under the Commonwealth of Independent States flag. My mother told me I would be the first from an independent Azerbaijan. After 1992, Azerbaijan did regain independence but there were no judo Olympic medals for the country, up to and including 2004, not of any colour, so when I won on 11th August 2008, I was the first for our independent country. That was very special."

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"My mother was a main factor but also I always wanted to be a champion, since I was small. Judo was becoming more and more popular and I wanted to fight too, I liked the way judo looked. It wasn’t only the Olympic Games I wanted to win; no matter the event, I always wanted to be first, for small or big competitions. I had great passion for judo and the dojo was like a second home.

When I started training at the age of 7 in my local club in Baku maybe some doubted I could do it but I never had a doubt at all. The night before this day, 11th august 2008, I fell asleep and I actually had a dream about winning. I saw my president present me with the medal and congratulate me. In the morning I woke up and took chalk and wrote on a board in my room that I am going to be Olympic champion. I talked with other athletes, friends from different sports and told them I would become the champion. They were all shocked to hear this so convincingly because I said it and I did it."

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"I absolutely believed in my judo. Competing at the Olympic Games was a big opportunity in my life and I was not willing to lose that opportunity. I knew exactly that I would not miss my chance. I was world number one and I had won world silver the year before, in Rio and I was winning in the world cups, as they were called at the time. I was not going to lose. I just didn’t have a doubt; my focus was perfect.

Yes, the medal changed me. I changed for the better. Everyone in the street, everywhere, recognised me and my name. Everyone gave me the thumbs up when I walked by. Because of this achievement new children started to do judo and the sport became even more popular. I am able to earn my living from judo thanks to this medal. My life became smoother and more comfortable and I worked hard for that. Our national president recognised me too. After the Games I arrived back in Baku on a private jet arranged by our president. These are unbelievable memories."

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"I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t won that day. Each soldier wants to become a general. Each judoka wants to be Olympic champion. When other people talk about events, no-one cares which year you won. Once Olympic champion, you are a champion for the rest of your life. Judo today is one of the most popular sports, practised all around the world in more than 200 countries and this is because of Mr Vizer and his team for popularising the sport and taking the level to such professional heights all over the world. I am proud to be a part of it.”

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images