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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 28 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Emilie Andeol, Olympic champion in Rio De Janeiro in 2016 in the +78 kg category.
The +78 kg podium, Rio de Janeiro Olymlic Games, 2016.

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 journeys 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 with a huge focus on the mental side of things. It was certainly my character that made the medal! Initially people did not think I would win the Olympic Games and that is what made me become Olympic champion. It was a huge motivation. The more people told me I would never make it, the more I told them they will see. It might take time but I was determined."

The Olympic final against Ortiz (CUB).

"I worked a lot in physical and technical ways to be prepared but what made the difference was my mental preparation. I knew I would fight against the Cuban and the Chinese and I was certainly a lot smaller than them but I worked on the mental side to beat them.

The most difficult contest at the Rio Games was against the Tunisian, Nihel Cheikh Rouhou, because I had never beaten her before. I could have fought against world or Olympic champions and felt comfortable with it, but no! I fought against her in the quarter-final and gave everything to win that contest and once I won I felt liberated."

Osae-komi for Olympic gold.

"For me the Olympic title was not a surprise. Before I left to go to the Games I knew I would be the Olympic champion. I knew before leaving France and it was the first time I ever had that feeling. If the final had lasted 20 minutes or an hour I still would have won. If, to get the Olympic title, I needed to walk on water, that day I could have done it. I had a fire inside me, the ‘why it was me that day’ is because of who I am. I am me because of everything that happened in my life, a lot of which was not easy.

To prepare mentally I had a hypnotist who helped me work specifically on staying focused, on being truly in the moment. I also had some extra support for more general mental preparation. I only saw the hypnotist for one month before the Games but the rest of the mental prep was done through a couple of years. I needed to forget where I was, who was there, the wider view and ensure everything was totally focused on the moment, the present, one minute by one."

Emilie Andeol (FRA), Olympic champion.

"Because my main strength is mental, I consider that my tokui-waza was mental presence. I can be emotional and it can be either an advantage or the opposite and so the work was done to ensure this was part of what kept me strong. I really believe in this kind of work. For example, for my second European title I almost didn’t go to the competition as I was not ready, just coming back after an injury. I went and was able to stay focused and win on that day even when my body didn’t want me to.

I have no advantages in the category with regards to size or technical ability, so I trained with the men and I learned to compete in the category despite obvious disadvantages and this process fed my mental capability. No-one believed in me, I was too small but I learned to take it one moment at a time, I believed in me.

The medal did change me, yes. I went from not being known directly to being straight into the spotlight and so it was a bit complicated to manage at first. I consider that I have a relationship with the medal. In the beginning, straight after the Games, it took over so I needed to take time to manage that relationship. Now I do not present myself as Emilie Andeol Olympic champion, just as Emilie."

The media interest was immediate.

My every day life has not changed but I have come to know myself better. Some people are born to be Olympic champion; they have the charisma and the aura. At the beginning I didn’t want to become a high level judoka but entered INSEP with the goal of becoming French champion. I was not born for it, but I became one.

I am at peace, I am happy now. It has been difficult with the media and because of the medal I was put on a pedestal which is not really a comfortable place for me, it’s not in my nature. I am now happier than I used to be watching judo, like being at the Bercy for the Paris Grand Slam. I am more relaxed now in my every day life. At the beginning, after Rio, it was hard. I couldn’t even talk about judo or watch judo. I had to make a switch and it was while commentating at the Tokyo Games that I really found a new peace with everything.

It was not the actual stop, the retirement, which was hard but that during my career I was not considered to be the number one and I added a lot of pressure to myself, on top of the public expectation that I would not be the best. After the Games I was exhausted physically and mentally because I had to push myself so hard and so far and so I needed a break. I continued after the Games when I should have stopped and so I needed a period of recovery. I can say now that there was a period of depression and I needed to work hard again, this time to recover rather than to perform. I had pushed so hard, I think I had pushed myself too much.

I’m an Independent person and also unique. I had nothing like the others in the team and even today perhaps that is still true. Its almost like being in my own world. The Olympic gold medal changed other peoples perception of me but it confirmed mine. I always wanted to write my name in history or to contribute something to the history of judo. My story can inspire young people to believe in themselves. I now feel the gold medal is perhaps the beginning and not the end.”