What have we had time for, in recent months, that maybe we didn’t allow time for in the past? The rush of the seemingly never ending elite sport conveyor belt carried us from one goal to the next, via one championship and a camp and the next and the next and the next. An exhilarating ride of extreme highs and lows, changing environments and personnel, but with all of it remaining somehow familiar.

We have loved the safety of our speeding bullet train through life, calculating every decision at break-neck pace and yet here we are with a stillness that feels almost like travelling through clouds; a slow-motion fog with an expanse of time that none of us have had the luxury or misfortune to experience before.

So what is it that we have had time for?

Thought. That’s it! Time to think, forcing ideas and reflection to bubble to the surface. It’s a creativity of survival, a new way to be our own saviour every day, wading through myriad unknowns and a future that now seems unrooted. We are all fighting hard to pin it down and to glue some of the pieces back into a puzzle with a clearer picture.

Amandine Buchard has been fighting as hard as anyone to stay on top of her mental game, constantly pushing forward against the walls of Covid.

“During lockdown I realised that I couldn't blame myself for everything that was going on, that there was no point in asking myself more questions about the next dates to come; that whatever happened outside of my control, I had to stay focused on what I could do and what I could control.”

Amandine training at home, surrounded by reminders of her club, her goals and her best memories.

It’s a standard coaching tool, to teach judoka how to ‘control the controllable’ and this is playing a key role in the publicly visible resilience of our top athletes. Many have spoken more than ever before about their struggles and challenges, sharing their fears and also their solutions and their approach to this new life, while always adhering to the knowledge that this is temporary.

Amandine has nailed it, while acknowledging some really difficult days, applying her energies to progressive activities and to preparing for whatever comes next, however long it takes.

“During lockdown I took the opportunity to complete my academic files, for my State Higher Diploma in ‘Youth, Popular Education and Sport.’ Under normal circumstances I would have had to finish it the year after the Olympics but I took the opportunity to work really hard and I did the exams by video conference. I got it, I passed!

I have also researched and learned a lot on the internet about different kinds of training and about stretching well. I bought books on stretching, weight training and Chinese medicine. I’m interested in anything and everything that can help me to become a better athlete, especially how to recover better. This is so important. During the lockdown I have been able to restart my body and rehabilitate, strengthening my shoulders and making other physical gains.”

Making physical progress and regaining shoulder health in lockdown.

That drive to improve is part of the make-up of elite athletes, feeding philosophy and framing their values system. Amandine has been doing this for so long, despite being only 25 years old. She has world medals at Cadet, Junior and Senior level and has no less than 18 IJF World Tour medals hanging around her diminutive lapels.

Throwing Abe Uta to win the 2019 Osaka Grand Slam

The gap in recognisable life forged by the ‘Coronacoaster’ highlights just how vast the chasm is that sits between the intensity of life for ‘civilians’ and that of an elite judoka.

“It is true that the strict quarantine is done for the moment and the ‘normal life’ is slowly coming back for ‘normal people,’ albeit with hygiene conditions to respect, but for me, I don’t feel I’m back in normality because the thing that gives rhythm to my life is judo.

Of course now we can train again but it’s very difficult for me without goals; I’m a competitor at heart and I’m suffering so much from this situation. I’m really missing competitions, championships, the adrenaline of fighting. I’m missing my international friends and battling against rivals.”

Fighting rival Shishime (JPN) at the 2018 Baku Grand Slam

The fight to find positivity in the ordinary has been almost physical, with the beginning of lockdown being spent largely alone. Amandine has trained, trained every day, using it as the marker for progress and the indicator for self-control.

Sometimes posting on social media can provide athletes with a kind of accountability to themselves, but it also shows a willingness to share the process with others who also need support, however virtual the Insta-stories and Tweets may seem. Amandine’s well-chosen images have been shared by many and have been inspirational, without doubt, with younger judoka following her daily training updates and maybe understanding that sport, training, judo are still the healthy way forward, even when faced with, especially when faced with, such alien circumstances. Amandine, therefore, has been part of the solution for some. It seems that with technological advances, the visibility of our heroes and their integrity becomes more important every day.

“I didn't really look for any inspiration outside of my environment. I was fighting against myself, not to be brought down. Some form of depression has loomed over many of us, but fortunately, I had my friends, coaches and my girlfriend to put a smile on my face from afar and of course once the restrictions here in France lifted a little I could see them in person and have that much-needed, human, face-to-face contact.”

Amandine Buchard remains humble and honest, whether it be online or in person. She just continues to work for academic progress, for athletic improvement and for a future that has to become more tangible soon. We all need that, having had this time to think about it and evaluate if the judoka life is really what is wanted. And it is! It really is!

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