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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 23 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Ilias Iliadis, Athens 2004 Olympic champion in the -81kg category.
Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

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?

The Athens Olympic Games, 2004. Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

“To become Olympic champion is so good, such a huge achievement. People say ‘wow!’ and hold you up as something special but in other ways it is so difficult; because you are Olympic champion, you are different forever, you can’t be free from it. Everyone has their personal life but sometimes I can’t do what I want in my personal life because always behind me are many children and I have to be careful, to be a good example for them. Can the next generation do it by talking about it or by working hard? I have to show them it’s hard work, but its possible. For me it was always about hard work and discipline, maybe even too much in some ways."

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"Actually I see some Olympic champions who have lost themselves. They are amazing people but sometimes from very poor families and with riches and a new big name they think they can become stars and do what they want. If they are a champion they have power and they take that freedom for granted but it’s not really real."

The crowd cheering for their young hero at home in Athens. Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"I take responsibility for this position. I have a tattoo which I can see always, a reminder to never forget. I must be a responsible father, husband and coach, responsible for all aspects of my life."

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"As a child I always felt different. If you ask children what they want perhaps they will tell you a new bike or some other gift but I always wanted to become Olympic champion, from when I first started judo. All my training was for that dream, with no other thought. In Georgia there is such a huge ‘champion feeling,’ but now I know real life begins after the medal. After the medal it’s actually still a hard life."

What is your secret?

"I don’t have one, I swear there is nothing, no secret ingredient. It’s just discipline. I speak with my athletes now about facts. I show what I do and let them see how important it is to wake up and go to training. I always do the maximum. I see myself in the mirror and ask if I have fully targeted what I want. If the answer is no? Go to work and get it."

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"Sacrifice is part of success, whether it’s to sacrifice time or occasions or even people, sometimes. It’s not that I ‘love’ judo, it isn’t that. The person who invented that word was so clever, inventing a word that tries to say a lot but is so overused that it can become less meaningful. I love my children. I love good food. I love to train. They don’t all mean the same thing.

I am in a relationship with judo; it is not a sport but is a person. If we look at it like it is just a sport, we would never understand what it really means. It’s like a best friend staying always with me. I will never change, I will be like this with personal discipline all my life.”

Ilias Iliadis, Olympic champion. Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

Ilias Iliadis was born in Georgia but competed for Greece throughout his career. Now he is coaching in Uzbekistan.

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.