Five world golds, 6 Paris golds and an Olympic gold. Judo, completed!

No! Not for Clarisse Agbegnenou! 18 months away from competitive judo, since the Tokyo Olympic Games, was the time she took to start her family, giving birth to her daughter 8 months ago, but now she’s ready to start again.

Let's go!

Such was her impact on the circuit that even after a year and a half away, she remained at 19 on the World Ranking List, still in line for Olympic qualification for Paris 2024, although we understand the host quota is a little different.

Let’s agree that her body will be different, her priorities may be different but perhaps her judo intelligence has not changed. So, what now? She wants to come back but that cannot be easy. It’s brave, it’s very public and no matter what insecurities may come along with being a new parent and an elite athlete, they cannot be allowed to fester.

In Tel Aviv Clarisse made her first re-appearance on the World Judo Tour since Tokyo and it was also her first time back on weight at -63kg. She fought for her home team, RSCC, at the European Club Team Championships in Georgia in November but at -70kg, so the feeling was different.

Competing in Gori, Georgia, for RSCC with fellow new mum Nekoda Davis (GBR). Photo courtesy of Gabi Juan, EJU

In Tel Aviv Clarisse said, “I really did enjoy today. I felt good and it was nice to come back, was really nice. My baby was good to me here and so that helped me to have fun. I think the people around me like and appreciate my situation, other athletes and countries were so happy to see me. They say I am something, like they respect my choice.”

Clarisse placed 7th in Israel. There seemed to be people divided into two camps, those who expected her to come back, win everything and take the gold straight away, and those who believed it couldn’t be done and that she would just lose. However, Clarisse isn’t really affected by those opinions, either way. What is on the outside can be ignored and she’s very good at focussing on what is important.

A glimpse of the best version of Clarisse, in Tel Aviv

“I feel like a competitor, of course and so I felt like I should have won. I needed to be stronger and faster but I knew that being in perfect shape couldn’t be my whole priority. I just needed to come back and this experience tells me what my next focus is.

I really feel the difference between the old and new emphasis with the rules, like the management of the judogi and other elements, so my rhythm is a bit off. There are many changes to manage. I didn’t know it would be this easy to make weight, though, it just dropped. I was eating so much here in Israel and before I had Athena, my daughter, I was sitting at 65 or 66kg and coming down, so even this feels different.

Getting full judo strength back is an essential focus. I feel good vibes though, from everywhere. When I lost and the crowd gave me such a good feeling, cheering and supporting me, it was so nice. A loss is always something challenging but it is also normal and the crowd picked me up straight away, I was not alone, not with them.

It’s all ok, just about what is next. Now I know I can come back. I was thinking it but now I know. If it was a very long period to the next Olympic Games maybe it would be too much but this short time frame means I can get back up to speed and just go, get results in the short term and meet my target. Paris! Gold! And finish!

What does it mean for her teammates in France? Manon Deketer is 24 and has just won her first world medal. She has three grand slam bronzes too and seems to be stepping forward. Her attitude is one of real judo spirit, “I have to beat everyone to be the best so Clarisse being back makes no difference to me. It’s completely ok.” This is a clear sentiment and one to admire.

Clarisse’s time in Israel is over, but not being one to waste time, her next stop is Japan. A few weeks training, with the whole family by her side, this is the way to take the next step. Clarisse told us she was back, she wasn’t offering empty words. The clock is ticking and she’s excited to meet the demands of the next 17 months.

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