Although living in a nation where they first talk about cricket before they talk about the weather, Jasleen Singh Saini started to practice judo in his hometown Gurdaspur, located in the Punjab province situated in the northwest part of India.
Saini (IND) in action at the 2017 Junior Worlds in Zagreb

“While cricket and field hockey are the main sports of India, my city has a very good set-up for judo,” Jasleen explains. “My dad was an avid cricket fan, but he took me to judo class, as I had a keen preference for martial arts. From the very first day I stepped into the dojo, I felt good about it. What judo taught me is discipline.”

Jasleen took his judo serious and participated in the national junior championships. “I didn’t win in my first attempt, but I didn’t quit either. So, I worked hard and the next time I competed, I won gold at the national junior championships.”

Judo is indeed not the most popular sport in India, but it has quite a following in Gurdaspur, according to Jasleen. “We’ve had some nice role models who competed at the highest level for India which makes me keep going and working hard. However, there are a number of challenges that appear when wanting to perform on the highest level possible. Participating in international events, training camps. Nevertheless, the first things I learned about judo, the value of the sport, is how to prevail over such challenges. Judo has taught me how to overcome these and through the sport I tackle any setback that comes along with competing at the highest level,” he says.

The Indian judoka has competed in five Grand Slams until now. “I won one match before. Yesterday was my second victory in five events.”

Travelling to Germany was no easy endeavor for the delegation. “We applied for our visas a week prior to the tournament, unfortunately two teammates and the coach didn’t get their visa on time and couldn’t come,” he explains. Another challenge for the team.

“It’s always difficult to compete without your coach. However, another thing I learned from judo is that when you’re on the mat, you are on your own. And it’s you who has to make things happen. As soon as I found out that our coach was not coming, I remembered this aspect of our sport and prepared myself mentally to battle on my own. Of course, my teammates are always there for me supporting me from the bleachers. So mentally I was ready to fight alone,” Jasleen says. “The first bout I just wanted to win as it was quite some time we have been out of competition. The second round was tougher against the German Seidl and I lost.” The Indian judoka’s last international tournament prior to this Grand Slam was in 2017 at the Junior Worlds in Zagreb where he also won his first match. “Since this is my first return on the international stage, I’m happy my first bout concluded with a victory,” he ends.

From Düsseldorf the team will return to India and prepare for the World Tour Grand Prix in Tbilisi.

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