Antonio Esposito has been working towards the Olympic Games since he first stepped on to the tatami and at 29 he is finally going to realise his dream. It’s been a long time coming but the moment of realisation made it all worth it.

“This moment, winning in Linz, it’s the moment I dreamed of as a child. I suffered so much to get to experience these beautiful sensations and finally now I have the chance to go and compete for an Olympic medal. Without this medal at the Upper Austria Grand Prix this year, it was going to be very difficult and maybe I wouldn’t qualify. This medal made it certain."

The winning throw in Linz meant so much to Antonio Esposito.

"In Rio in 2016 I was young and still competing at -73 kg. I only did the last 6 months of qualification and so it was impossible to qualify. In Tokyo I didn’t qualify because despite having a great start with my first grand prix medal, Zagreb 2017, I had a major shoulder injury straight after. With that, again qualification was impossible. I kept working for it but once that cycle was over, I finally decided to have the operation and ten days after the 2021 World Championships in Budapest, I was operated on."

Fighting for bronze in Zagreb, 2017.

"Immediately after that surgery I was already dreaming of the qualification for Paris. I only think about this, since that time. I live and train in Napoli but was based in Rome for my post-surgery physio and I watched all of the Tokyo Olympic Games on my phone from there.

I train every day with one objective: to qualify. I passed through a lot of difficult moments to get here. Even as recently as Baku in February, I lost in the first round against an Uzbek opponent and I thought that maybe I would not qualify again. Every athlete at that tournament who was below me on the ranking list seemed to be jumping over me. I took one day in my hotel crying about this.”

Antonio paused after saying this, not to reflect on the upset but to decide whether to divulge a small but important moment. He smiled, “I watched ‘Rocky 3,’ the part when he lost his trainer and had a hard time. He still had the motivation to train even without direction and always aimed to win again. I wanted that and it’s really always in my mind to do the same.

Before Baku last year I had a tough time, losing two grandparents in one month and also a good friend from my training group in Naples; he was sick and passed away. This all happened so fast and it was really tough to recover from such loss. I felt I lost strength because of this. That all happened in the August of 2023. The Baku Grand Slam was in September of 2023 and this was also a tough event for me due to these difficult moments but I managed to pass through those feelings and I won the bronze there. There have been a lot of ups and downs."

With coach Raffaele Parlati after winning bronze in Baku, 2023.

"The coaching team here, Enrico Parlati and Raffaele Parlati particularly are always people for me like family. These relationships are important. I was born in this club and grew up here; I became a man here. To be the person I am and the athlete I have become, I have to thank my family, of course, but equally these coaches. In every difficult moment they knew how to stimulate me at the right time and in the right way, to always get the best out of me. They have been able to restore me when I didn’t feel I had the power myself.

The greatest coaches not only know the judo of an athlete but they know their mind. I am not the same athlete as Christian or Gennario and they know this well."

Upper Austria Grand Prix 2024.

"I pointed to Enrico after winning the final in Linz. 1 week before that, Enrico told me that we would close the qualification question this week. He was really forceful about this idea that I must trust him. He knew I was ready and he was right.

I am very confident going into the Olympic Games but also really calm. I know the difference at the Olympic Games is the mind and not just the training and judo; this is mostly done already. I have no anxiety about this. Every champion says to me that I must stay calm and I follow this.“

Antonio Esposito takes nothing for granted. He has worked for it and suffered for it and now he has earned himself the chance to compete on the biggest stage this summer. He is someone who reflects on every detail and appreciates the support from all the people around him. That support will undoubtedly be loud in Paris.

Happy at home in Napoli, preparing for the Olympic Games.
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