In 2017, 16 year old Daria Bilodid (UKR) won the European Championships in Warsaw. She fought at -48 kg and it proved to be the beginning of an incredible run of successes in the senior ranks. She won the senior worlds in 2018 before she won the junior edition a month later. The European and world titles were both hers in 2019 making her a double continental and world champion at only 18.
Winning the 2018 World Championships in Baku, sharing the victory with her mum and coach.

Bilodid’s profile was a constant topic of conversation and she prepared for the Tokyo Olympic Games under a great deal of pressure but being incredibly competitive and goal driven, she dealt with it, continuing to work with Olympic gold in her sights. It didn’t happen as she planned though, a bronze medal being her prize. The disappointment was clear.

Tokyo Olympic Games, 2021.

Daria Bilodid did not compete again for 9 months, reappearing at the 2022 European Championships in Bulgaria but in a new weight category. It was expected, after all she had been at -48 kg for many years already, as a senior from 16 years old and at 21 the change was welcomed, creating a new buzz and excitement around the young Ukrainian. What no-one expected was a jump of two categories and in Sofia she competed at -57 kg for the first time.

Since Sofia Daria has competed 16 times but without a single gold medal going her way. For a born champion this has been very hard but at no point has she looked like veering off her trajectory. At every event, even while amassing a string of bronze medals, we have seen her reactions, serious responses to the gaps in her game, her reply to improve and work and commit in an impressive way.

Paris Grand Slam bronze, 2023.

In Zagreb, on day one of the 2024 European Championships, Bilodid finally won a major title again, at the end of a glittering day, her first major title since Paris of 2020 or the worlds of 2019 and her reaction to it was to shine with the biggest continuous smile in the world. Clearly filled with satisfaction and happiness, she hugged her coach and mum, grinning like we haven’t seen from her for a long time, lighting up Arena Zagreb. It has been two years since she joined the -57 kg group, an impatient patience driving her towards new success.

Success at the 2024 European Championships.

The photographer, Emanuele Di Feliciantonio, moved by Bilodid’s performance in Zagreb, said, “Daria’s photo is special because it has been a long time since I saw her happy like this. Today she delivered a great competition, the sort of day that we became so used to seeing from her at -48 kg. Her face illustrates the pure joy that can only be felt when something was strived for in such a totally committed way.”

A special moment in Zagreb for coach and athlete, mother and daughter.

And so it begins, a new collection of titles for a Ukrainian prodigy who never gives up, showing the whole judo family what a champion's mindset looks like.

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