Paris is a great city to visit for tourism and culture and, in this instance, also judo. The Institut de Judo, INSEP, the Bercy, Stade de Coubertin, the 1924 Olympic Games; so many places and occasions linking French society to the sport of judo and to a wider history. France is truly a country of judo.

The 150-days-to-go marker has now passed and to celebrate the acceleration of the Olympic preparation period, a group of top judoka enjoyed taking some fun time out to visit the countdown clock, realising again how easy it is to fall in love with the city.

Michael Korrel (NED) has 4 medals from the Paris Grand Slam, including 2 golds: 2018 and 2023. He feels at home, happy to fight amid the volume of the home crowd and the energy they conjure. He’s looking forward to the summer ahead, with his sights set on a 5th Parisian medal but a different one from the 4 that came before.

That winning feeling. Michael Korrel winning gold at the 2023 Paris Grand Slam.

“It could, in one moment, seem like a hassle to re-arrange things for a promo day but it was easy to delay my train home. These opportunities are actually great; we want to put in the work to show judo to the world. We appreciate that the IJF wants to make heroes out of us and so we need to be part of that process, so I’m here.

My family sent me a picture of the clock as they had already been to see it and so it’s great to have been there too. We have one in the Netherlands but this is Paris!"

Photo courtesy of Gabi Juan / EJU.

"With such a definite day to have to perform, I just keep it small for myself, keeping improvement as the focus. When I drive in the Netherlands and see a countdown clock, it comes back to me. I know 1st August is coming but it’s great to be a part of this process and not just be thinking about the day itself. I have a little painting with the date on it in my living room as it’s important but I try to keep it small.

The cycle is only 3 years shorter than normal. This will be my second Olympic Games but really the first normal one. Time is going really quickly and the qualification period came really fast after Tokyo. I just have to keep doing this, fighting and maintaining the points, tidying the game plan.

There were lessons from the last Games. It was a first round loss in Tokyo and I was really sad in the beginning but later, with an open mind, there were so many lessons in that; I grew as a person. It’s a cliche but I became European champion and then won Paris last year so I know I can be at the top of my game and all that I did before, including the Tokyo Games, feeds into that.

Thinking about performing in Paris in the past, I remember fighting the French competitor in the semi-final in front of the crowd and I lost but I took a lot from that fight that has stayed with me, I take it through my whole career. Also, some of my favourite memories definitely include winning in Paris twice. Also my first ever grand slam medal was a Paris bronze, fighting with Lucas Krpalek and Cyrille Maret."

Paris, 2015. Photo courtesy of the EJU.

"At this Olympics the venue will be packed as it’s smaller; it will be intense and I’m learning to be in the moment. I see pictures of the arena and the Eiffel Tower and when people ask about the location we know it’s something special. I want to end my career with a big medal.

After the Games, it’s time to be a good dad. We are expecting our first child so that’s going to be a busy time. It will be time to take some time off and reflect on it all, soaking up this process. I’m a well planned athlete and I always try to be ready. Becoming a dad just before the Games is quite a challenge but I’m really looking forward to it. Then it will be time to set some new goals, maybe a new challenge, perhaps trying the heavyweight category. I think my style will work well in the heavier group although I would remain one of the lighter guys.

I feel very privileged to have 4 medals and two golds here already. You always want the medal but it’s just part of the journey, especially with the Olympics. Losing is part of it and we have to accept that. This time, after losing earlier this month, I need to do some technical work to not experience this again, strategically it needs to be better. Shido losses are frustrating; to be beaten by someone better than me on the day is ok but to lose myself, well that is where I need to work.

I will be ready for this Olympic Games and being at the Paris countdown clock ahead of it all brings a good feeling.”

Photo courtesy of Gabi Juan / EJU.

Michael, Alina, Clarisse, Baul, Shirine, Andreja and Chelsie are 5 months away from stepping on to the biggest sporting stage of them all, 5 months of work, preparation and planning with selection still not certain for everyone. What is certain is that their careers have purpose and that’s these days of reflection rather than just training help everyone to place themselves and to enjoy the ride.

Photo courtesy of Gabi Juan / EJU.
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