When high profile judoka change nationality there is always a great deal of speculation and probing. There are questions: what was wrong with their old federation? Why now? There can be questions about motive and integrity, often sensationalising assumed stories. This story, however, couldn’t be more simple, despite a catalogue of complications which could have barricaded Kim Polling out of judo if it weren’t for her calm tenacity. Actually it is a story of love and family.

Kim, a world medallist, an Olympian, a 4-time World Judo Masters winner, moved to Italy in 2016 to be with her then partner, Andrea Regis. From that point on, her life was in Italy. She trained there with Alessandro Bruyere, built a social circle there and most importantly, enjoyed her new life with Andrea.

The satisfaction of a 4th Masters title: Qingdao, 2019.

“Since 2016 I was living in Italy. By the Tokyo Games I had already been living here for 4 years and was entitled to citizenship but I was too old to join the military group and that was really the only way to train full time and have a salary and a future career.”

At that point, Kim and Andrea decided to start a family and baby Aurora was born, now almost two years old. “I never thought that I could come back after having a baby, especially while living somewhere else away from my Dutch coach, a coach who has done the maximum possible for me but in this situation, which has been really difficult, it hasn’t been ideal conditions for any of us. In Papendal I couldn’t take my daughter everywhere with me and so it sometimes felt isolating. In the last 6 months I was more in Rome than in the Netherlands. I was keeping as much contact with the Dutch team and my coach as possible but it was a lot of effort and time to stay professional in this way. Being professional is essential for me so I did it but it has been hard.”

Celebrating becoming European champion with her club team in Italy, 2018.

In January of 2024, the Italian military changed their policy around age of induction and Kim found a new possibility to continue her athlete life from her existing living situation. Having already accepted that her career was winding down, a new energy approached and she started to work towards tying it all back together: the location, the nationality, the high level judo career, the military and her family life.

“Double nationality is only allowed for Dutch people by way of marriage. Andrea and I had been planning our wedding for a long time but the timing presented itself to us simply with this military rule change. I needed the IJF, Italy, the Netherlands, the military and the Dutch team to all say yes; I had already been ready to say ‘yes’ for years! There were a lot of parts to manage, a lot of things to organise, to simply live as we already are but with a different flag for one of us. My daughter is Italian, my new husband and our family here are Italian. My parents perhaps had the biggest change, from a Dutch daughter to a married Italian one!

Andrea and I are feeling so proud that we did everything finally this way. We knew we had to try and make it all work and so we arranged the wedding and decided that in the worst case we would be married, even if the rest didn’t work. For this to be the ‘worst case’ is ironic as it’s the family life that is the best part and the catalyst for all of this."

Andrea and Kim's wedding day.

"In the end it was a perfect wedding day just with family and with our daughter. We always thought we had to have a big party style Italian wedding but we both said that we are tired and in this complicated situation managed to have a wedding exactly as we really wanted; we discovered that. We had beautiful meals with our favourite ten people and our favourite restaurants. It was so simple, no politics, just clear and loving lines. Even the date was beautiful, poetic even: 24.02.2024."

"With the wedding completed the rest followed. Immediately as I left the Dutch team I felt sad because I hadn’t realised how much energy the dual athlete life was costing me. Now I don’t need to get translations for plans and documents, I don’t need to provide training information to two teams. It makes so much more sense to compete for the country where my whole life is. I lived the last quarter of my life in Italy. Now I feel like I have a complete life and a block I had inside me is suddenly gone. I have all I want: house, baby, amazing husband and judo too. As soon as I was officially Italian, I felt such a lift."

"A lot of people say that it will change a lot but actually I now keep my home, my living situation, family, etc and so I change almost nothing except the flag. It’s so much easier now. A lot of things changed but nothing changed!

I didn’t know in advance how the Netherlands would respond to me leaving. The Italian team now has a new person for their mixed team and this of course could affect the Netherlands. I wondered which way they would react. My birth country is really special. They chose my life after judo as more important than what might happen at the Olympics. This is really a human response and it is the best illustration of jita kyoei. The humanity they have shown is special and akin to Jigoro Kano’s original ideas for judo, to contribute to society. I really don’t think every federation would have responded this way and so I will be forever grateful for the career I had in Netherlands and the life I will now be able to live in Italy.

In Italy I now have the possibility of a military career and this could mean a salary and security for the rest of my life. I already feel a part of the judo team. Alessandro Bruyere has accepted me from the beginning, since I began training with them when I arrived 8 years ago but they also helped me work through the options ahead of me. The local region have worked so hard to help with the transfer of nationality too. My timebound challenge for this Games has been so well accommodated and everyone worked hard for me. All this means I feel entirely included, welcome and valued here. The Netherlands is my history and foundation and Italy is my future and my present happiness. I now live a life that feels unified.”

Kim is now preparing to compete at the Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam in May, ahead of the last days of Olympic qualification. She sits in a good position ready to fly her new Italian flag wherever she can.

See also