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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 21 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Clarisse Agbegnenou, Tokyo 2021 Olympic champion in the -63kg category.

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 think I was meant to be Olympic champion as I didn’t really know when or how to move forward after the silver in Rio in 2016. I don’t have the words for this frustration and actually I still have it. It’s better now with the gold but it remains with me nonetheless. I didn’t enjoy Rio, the stress was too much. I hate this medal and actually I hide it in my house. So many athletes look for any medal at an Olympic Games so I know my attitude is sort of terrible but I had to surpass it.

Round 1 at the Tokyo Olympic Games, 2021.

I wanted to do everything to win the medal in Tokyo. Actually I’m going to add a side note because what I mean is that I wanted to do everything that is fair as I can’t ever accept doping or other forms of cheating. I really had to earn it and that work and integrity would give me the freedom to enjoy the competiton in Japan. I wanted to do my best judo and I knew I had the opportunity to win so I just worked and worked.

Clarisse Agbegnenou and Tina Trstenjak (SLO) in the 2021 -63 kg Olympic final.

I had a little fear when I saw Tina against me again in the final but just a short fear, imagining she would take the gold in all our Olympic Games meetings but I told myself, forcing a new vibration, that I need to win. I will work until the lights go out. I’m not the little girl I was 5 years before in Brazil. I think the first two minutes at the beginning of the fight I felt really terrible and I knew I had to be more intelligent. I took the first shido but in that moment I thought I would win because the shido told her that her choices were good. I already knew I would have the answer. I chose to be stronger, chose not to fall. What I thought would happen in my head, was what happened; she took two shido and when golden score came I didn’t just choose but I really knew I would find the muscles to do the right things. My cardio was good and so it was really my turn. When I threw her I felt a huge weight lifted from me, ‘Me, Clarisse, I did it! I have what I worked for and now I can enjoy my life as a woman and a person and just come back later if I really want to.’ It was time for me now.

"When I threw her..."

When I was a baby I was in a coma, not breathing from birth. I had bad kidneys and had to have surgery. My family were told I might not come back from surgery but my parents told them that I would survive. Doctors were going to switch off the machines that were keeping me alive. My parents were right though and when the doctor came to stop the machines, I took my last breath and actually it became my first breath. At that point the doctors said I would fight like this for my whole life. This is my super power, that I can fight this hard for everything I want.

Clarisse Agbegnenou: Olympic champion.

If I didn’t do it in Tokyo I would go again in Paris. This attitude is inside me, it is really a fire and I don’t know why this power choose me. Actually I think we choose each other. I do it all respectfully, working hard always and respecting my opponents because I know they are working a lot for this too. When I saw Tashiro lose it also did something to my heart because I know who she is and I really respect her work and her judo. It’s hard. It’s not fair that on those big days some have to lose but sometimes we all must.

The -63 kg Tokyo Olympic Games podium, 2021.

I know I have this power but I wait for nothing, I use it in a good way, always working and doing all I can to be the best.

The gold medal didn’t change me at all. It’s possible I would have been changed if I hadn’t won it though. Actually this medal gave me the chance to step back for a while and have my baby and I really needed that. I am a person who loves to laugh and I knew to lose again, even in the final, it would have affected me and perhaps would have forced me to take different life choices. Maybe I wanted to be a mum even more than to be the champion but I couldn’t do one without the other, it was a package for me.”