For some, the arrival of a new year signals a moment to take a deep breath and re-ignite one’s resolve, ready to charge into work and achievement refreshed. For others, it means nothing, no change, just another day to continue and cement good habits and consistency. There is no right or wrong answer but it is Olympic year and we cannot escape that. What do the World Judo Tour athletes think about their first steps into 2024?

Alice Bellandi (ITA -78 kg)

World medallist and European champion

“2024 is the year! Of course I can’t lie to you, my heart knows what this year means but it also knows how good the journey I’m on has been and how great it still is. It is important to enjoy and be happy during it!

So, 2024 is both the revelation year and also simply another step towards being happy.”

Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA -63 kg)

Olympic champion and 6 time world champion

“So, what this crazy year, 2024, means to me… As a mother of course it means that my baby Athéna is growing up which is very hard but also very good! It is really funny and weird because I am not counting the time left until this summer’s Olympic Games, I’m not counting these months in sport but the months left before my baby turns 2. There is not long left; I think about her next milestones and achievements.

In one way this is a nice way to be because I don’t feel, for the moment, the stress of this massive event which is coming but at the same time it is scary because both events, the Olympic and my baby’s birthday are coming very fast. As a mother my time and focus is totally different and for the moment, I know it’s the Olympic year, but my baby is the priority.”

"I feel so grateful and happy to be trying to manage both. It’s important to be feeling healthy and happy. Sometimes it is difficult, with hard training and juggling life but I’m still happy and enjoying this ride for the moment, so it’s really cool.

Saied Mollaei (AZE -81 kg)

World champion and Olympic silver medallist

“I try to dream again and fight for the best pleasure in the world every day. I look at the world and my sport with a smile because with a good soul and strong values, I continue to enjoy our special conditions in sport. Health in our sporting life, in 2024, is the greatest blessing.”

Maria Celia Laborde (USA -48 kg)

World and 3 time continental medallist

Arriving in 2024 means for me a new beginning full of dreams and hopes. I have arrived with the joy of having achieved many proposed goals while continuing to achieve those that I still have to fulfill. I arrived at the beginning of this year, 2024, also full of possibility and hope that everything I set my mind to will be fulfilled. As I always say, everything is possible, we just have to believe in it ourselves and strive to achieve it. In conclusion, arriving at the year 2024 brings joy for me, happiness and hope.”

Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB -100 kg)

World silver medallist and European champion

“I am doing my thing this year too, like every year before it. I never made a big deal out of starting each new year. I just keep going the way I always have.”

Josh Katz (AUS -60 kg)

Olympian and 5 time continental champion

“For me, the feelings going into 2024 are all wrapped up in anticipation. For 8 years now all I’ve thought about is getting a chance to compete at the Olympics again and now this is finally the time I get to realise my dreams again.”

Natalie Powell (GBR -78 kg)

World and 3 time continental medallist.

“Arriving in 2024 brings me excitement and optimism for the challenges ahead. I’m looking forward to enjoying the journey of pursuing my goals this year.”

Karen Stevenson (NED +78 kg)

12 time World Judo Tour medallist.

“It means that the decision I made last year to switch from -78 kg to +78 kg turned out well, it’s above all my own expectations, to be honest. I'm still here fighting on the Tour and enjoying our beautiful game!"

"It's the first time I'm really in the race to qualify for the Games and now I understand what all the fuss is about. Colleagues, friends, family and others are asking: how is it going, when do you know if you're going? And of course I want to qualify for Paris this summer but there will be some big tournaments before that, like the Europeans and world championships. Individual medals at those events are goals I still want to achieve too.

Some of those other goals are why I made the choice in the first place; I try to keep that in mind. I have had goals I wanted to achieve, for example, to make my debut at the world championships. Now I've done that but there is always a next step! It will be an exciting and busy few months ahead.

Odette Giuffrida (ITA -52 kg)

World and double Olympic medallist.

2024, I want it to be my year! It's the year to go all out. It will probably be my last year because my body, unfortunately, is what it is but my head has never been stronger than now. I want to give everything and also enjoy everything. I want to prove to myself and the world who I am. I want to win against all the strongest judoka, demonstrating that work always wins with everything and everyone, and I want to earn everything I deserve."

"I don't know what will happen this year but it will definitely be unforgettable for me. Personally, I have a lot of faith, my heart is calm, so here we go, let the dancing begin!”

Martti Puumaleinen (FIN +100 kg)

European and Masters champion.

“Of course it is a very important year but I try to come at it like any other year. To enjoy judo and training is the recipe for success.”

Eteri Liparteliani (GEO -57 kg)

European champion and 10 time World Judo Tour medallist.

“It is a very difficult but also motivating year that has now begun. I am working hard to be able to show my best judo in 2024.”

An Baul (KOR -66 kg)

World champion and double Olympic medallist.

"My current mood is calm and focused, thinking about how to prepare for the rest of my time ahead of the Paris Games.I’m preparing to ensure I have the strength I need to go to Paris without getting tired. I don’t only think about the competition but about weight management, selections, training plans, injury management and more. Now is the time for focus.

I am grateful to be able to compete as a representative of Korea for a long time. I will enjoy every day and I am doing my best every moment. I will continue to move forward with my goals in 2024."

An Baul is right that now is the time for focus but also, isn’t it refreshing to know that it is a big factor for the athletes performing on the biggest stages to be able to enjoy the whole process. The destination is one thing but the path to get there is quite another and happiness throughout is clearly key.

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