Double Paralympic medallist, Florin Alexandru Bologa (ROU) has been the world ranking leader since 2019. He has also been undefeated and pretty much untouchable for a little over a year. Bologa’s VI journey, not known at the time, began in his mother’s womb due to microbes passing to the foetus. Changes in the maternal gut microbiome is one of the mechanisms that occurs in various pregnancy conditions, including foetal growth restriction and premature birth.

For Bologna, “I wasn’t born blind; I lost my sight when I was 6. My mother got a microbe during pregnancy, and this affected my eyesight. The doctors discovered I had that microbe when it was too late. It was hard for my family to accept that I will never be able to see again but I got over it easily. When you are a child, in your innocence, you accept various situations more easily. To me, it was not a tragedy. I continued to live my life in the most beautiful way possible.

I went to Cluj-Napoca, 120 km away from home, to study at a special school. There I started practising my first sport, swimming, until I discovered judo. After finishing high school, I went to university. I was the only blind person in the class and I did not feel inferior. Everyone treated me with respect and I did whatever any other student would do. I studied and graduated from the university with good results, doing judo at the same time. All in all, I try to live normally and to take the good parts of my disability.”

Bologa, as mentioned, used to swim, with no thoughts of the Paralympics prior to the age of 16, when a life changing event occurred. The president of the Romanian Paralympic Committee, Salvia Marion Wood-Lamont launched a programme aiming to find young talent, to prepare them to compete in judo.

“I was a high school student at the school for the visually impaired in Cluj-Napoca when I was spotted by Csokasi Eniko and Gianina Andreica, the two coaches sent to make selections. At that time, three students were selected but the other two dropped out along the way. Until then, I didn’t know what judo was but when I stepped on the tatami for the first time, I felt something special, I felt I had found my place, my happy place.

Since judo gave me a direction in life, it helped me to become independent and to write my own story. Also, this sport gave me the opportunity to meet Tomi, my coach, who is very important in my life. We have been through so many battles together and I am grateful for everything. Without him, my life wouldn’t be the same.”

Bologa’s first judo event was The Northern Cup in Baia Mare, Romania, 2012. He was a cadet back then. Four years later he achieved the target of many athletes and became a Paralympic medallist, at the Rio 2016 summer Games, in the -60 kg category. The moment was re-created at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, 2021.

The next summer Games are fast approaching and while the gold is the goal, for now, the focus is on the journey. The first step this year was the IBSA Grand Prix Heidelberg where the J1 -73 kg category was always going to be watched closely by all on site, for two reasons: the hosts had Lennart Sass as their biggest medal hope while, world and European champion Bologa had been undefeated and was the top seed. Last night though, Sass broke the record, winning gold. It was the first time Sass had overcome Bologa; was it the pressure of the loud crowd?

“I did not feel pressure having to face Lenart in his hometown. Sure, I will need to prepare better for the next event, to be able to win again but my form was not good today and I think that is the main reason I have lost in the final. The fact that I am not on form is normal because we are focusing on having me in my best shape for Paris. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about qualifying anymore so we are solely concentrating on the Paralympics. Of course, we will still go to Antalya and Georgia because it is important to have a few more events before Paris, especially to keep the body and the mind consistent with everything that comes when competing: adrenaline, routine and so on.”

This incredible, resilient sportsman is a big believer in everyone being able to learn something from each other and despite taking a loss during yesterday’s event, Bologa remains in good spirits ahead of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

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