Indeed, today, 9 October, one day prior to the event, the venue is prepped with the last details to make it the place to be for all veterans who worked hard to prepare for ‘their’ Worlds with grand hopes on mounting the podium and pocketing a medal.
Like John Steenackers. "I have always practiced judo," says the Belgian judoka. “At a certain point, unfortunately, you have to put judo on the back burner for other things in life, such as studying and work, but judo always remained my sport. At the age of fifty I took part in the Belgian Championship again and I took the title in -81 kg and then also -90 kg. I also participated in the World Championship for Veterans in Amsterdam in 2015 and started to prepare myself seriously, training up to nine times a week, adjusting food, etc. In 2015 I became fifth. Since my first participation I really got a taste for it.” At this year’s European Championships in Gran Canaria, John took bronze. "I'm really looking forward to the Worlds now, and hopefully also here in Marrakech I reach the podium," the enthusiastic 55-year-old judoka says.
“My whole team is ready for this World Championship,” says Christophe Laus, coach of the French team. “It’s a genuine World Championship, so it’s important for everybody, i.e. the judoka, the club, the federation. Moreover, it’s well organized so it’s great. All my judokas came well prepared.”
“This event is important for older judokas,” says club coach Pieric Lala. “This way the judokas are not training just for the sake of training. Rather on the contrary, they prepare themselves to shine here on the Worlds tatami. It gives them a purpose. It’s always a great atmosphere. You need to be prepared but at the same time it’s also a bit of a holiday, a sports holiday I would call it. It’s the perfect way to prove that older athletes too can bring beautiful judo to the mat.”
For American Ed Rodriguez from Orlando, Florida, it’s his sixth participation in an IJF Worlds for Veterans. “I notice it to become a better event every year. I really like this. For people our age we really get excited to be able to keep on doing the sport that we love.” The weigh-in process is always a bit tense for Ed. “I skipped diner last night and breakfast this morning to make weight. Luckily, I did. Right now, I’m so hungry,” Ed laughs.
Making friends among the international judo crowd is Ed’s fondest memory of the Veterans’ Worlds. “You certainly make friends. After the event, everyone gets together, to drink a beer and talk judo. You make friends like forever. Today I encountered guys who were my opponents in the past. We competed against each other on the mat, but we see each other again and we give welcome hugs and say hi. We don’t always speak the same language, but we recognize each other. Judo also means bonding.” For Ed the adagio ‘Judo for life’ stands as well. “We all have our jobs, responsibilities and family back home. This event is also a certain way to escape it for a short time,” says the judoka who is a judge in his professional life. “I work long days, ten hours a day, five days a week. I practice judo twice a week which gives me a good balance in my professional life. It helps me to release my stress. This championship is a good thing also. It’s something to look out for. It motivates you to train throughout the year so you can go to the Worlds.”
Towering over the crowd at the accreditation is Brazilian Marco Cachel. With his 2m, white hair and idem ditto colored handlebar moustache he rather looks like a big basketball player. But never judge a book by its cover. “I’m ready for the championship”, says the 73-year old judo veteran. “I came prepared.” His coach standing beside him nods his head in confirmation. “My dad goes to the gym every day,” adds his daughter Valeria who joined him on his trip to Marrakesh. “He does all kinds of martial arts, but he prefers judo.”
“I certainly do,” Marco confirms. “Judo is for life. It’s more than a sport. It’s also education.” His daughter is very proud. “I love to see him in action. He’s been an athlete since he was young. For me it’s a pleasure and I’m so honored to be here with him.”
“At our age we’re all a bit crazy here competing on the mat,” the Brazilian jokes. “But it’s a good crazy.”
On 10 October the competitions of the World Championship for Veterans will start on five tatamis. They will last until 13 October.