As today marks one year to go, just a year left to prepare, train, study and refine before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Maribor is the host town for the European Youth Olympic Festival, usually the first multi-sport event our young athletes get to experience.

This year, in Maribor, there are more than 300 athletes hailing from 43 different countries and they’re experiencing it all, from the opening ceremony to media interaction and kitting out. It’s fun and exciting and also has the possibility to be daunting.

Among the coaches are a number of familiar faces, including, notably, Karen Stevenson with the Dutch team. Next week she will compete at the World Judo Masters, fort he first time in her new weight category, +78kg. In Jerusalem last year Karen fought at -78kg and has done some incredible work to qualify for such a prestigious tournament after only 6 months in the heavyweight division.

In Maribor she is taking the time to support and coach young Dutch judoka, all of whom will have looked up to Karen as a senior team member, through their fledgling careers. Why, though, was Karen keen to attend in this role with so much to manage in her own elite career?

“I like to share my experience with the next generation and now I can find out if this is something I want and I'm able to do after my competitive years. Also, it's really interesting to see it from the other side, it makes me think about my own judo too."

Karen Stevenson exchanging ideas with a member of the Dutch cadet team in Maribor.

"The cadet athletes have really been inspired already. The young girl, Maud, who fought at -44kg yesterday, came to me in the evening and said, ‘you really helped control my nerves and gave me confidence.’ They ask me questions all the time about my judo and I can ask them questions back about how they do it and make them think about why they do things.

I am also thinking about how much or little you say when you are in the coaching chair, how much do they hear and understand in that moment of adrenaline? It is very interesting and I think it’s useful for me and for them.

It’s really nice that the Dutch federation gave me this opportunity. They want to keep more top level athletes in judo and this is a great step in that direction.”

On day 1 of EYOF the Netherlands had 2 frustrating 5th places, with judoka being so close to the podium but just missing out at the final hurdle. On day two they went one step better with another 5th place but also a bronze medal, their first judo medal of the Games, from Noor Noufal in the -48kg category.

The individual judo competition is now at the halfway point with two days completed and two to go. Karen will continue to the end of the tournament in Slovenia before switching her mindset back into that of an elite athlete, taking with her a new and important coaching experience.

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