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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 25 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Giulia Quintavalle, Olympic champion in Beijing in 2008 in the -57 kg 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?

“In 2007 one coach asked me if I wanted to change category. I had been -63kg and I decided, yes, it was time to change to the -57kg category. I did 2 qualification events at grand prix level, with the Italian federation looking at 3 of us in the category, me and two others. I had a good result in Moscow and went to the worlds in Rio in 2007. At that time, a 5th place at the worlds could automatically qualify the Olympic Games, so for me it was important to do well at that event.

I knew my judo was growing. I could feel at the camps in Spain and in other places that I was doing very well. I was winning against most other women. It was important to acknowledge how I was doing, for me to have trust in myself and to continue to grow."

Competing in Beijing, 2008.

"At the world championships in Rio I knew I could do well, I had generally good preparation, but I didn’t realise just how well! In the bronze medal contest against Saito of Japan, I wasn’t concentrated because I knew I was qualified for the Olympic Games. To be qualified already one year before the Games was really satisfying. I lost for the bronze and really it was a shame not to have that world medal but it wasn’t my focus. I was young and was not thinking clearly about everything I should have been.

One reason that perhaps I could be the champion that day in Beijing was that I knew my judo value already and a particularly positive characteristic was that I could really feel movement and position very well; it was my superpower.

When I fight, I believe in me. I can feel my strength and I hope to always stand on the podium. I don’t think about winning gold medals but always about being on the podium. I didn’t think I would win gold and when I looked at the draw for the Beijing Olympic Games it was bad. The first fight was with Yvonne Boenisch but it was the Olympic Games so this was normal. When I woke up in the morning I felt strong and I was focused on not losing any details, none. My focus was directly aimed at one fight and then the next. My coach always said my eyes were like those of a tiger, always determined. I fought with that power and energy."

The Beijing 2008 -57 kg Olympic final.

"My determination is also a big factor. If I want something, if I choose something, I will do everything to achieve it. My focus for the Olympic Games was very direct in both Beijing and London. I wanted to reach the podium again, the second time but it was the first time I ever lost against the American, Marti Malloy and she went on to win bronze. It was actually the first time I ever felt fear before a fight and my judo was so different because of that. With others, like Matsumoto, I felt good, but that fight against Malloy seemed different. My weight was also a challenge and may have affected me.

I knew I could be Olympic champion but I always keep my feet on the ground. I have good self-control in everything, in life and in judo. When my friends win I can see them celebrate and I can also be happy for them but I never felt the same exuberance or elation when it was me."

Did the medal change you?

"No, I am the same. A loss would have been difficult to accept and perhaps that would have changed me more but in life we can win and we can lose and we must accept both.

In 2016 I would like to have gone to the Olympic Games, in Rio, but I changed once I became a mum. I was actually pregnant in London when I fought, in 2012, and didn’t know. My focus was very different by Rio and I couldn’t find myself in the same way anymore, not on the tatami. It’s important to have people close to you who believe in you. In Beijing and London I had that but in Rio the team had changed and my life had also changed and so I couldn’t find myself, my centre. A change of focus and of team was enough to change me as a competitive judoka but in Beijing, everything was just right.”

Giulia Quintavalle (ITA), Olympic champion.