Every tiny role is woven intricately into the plan, to keep this masterpiece of an event running smoothly, amid the raucous, constant fervour of the spectators. They see everything and so there is nowhere to hide in Paris, nowhere.
One of the quiet heroes, usually out of view, is the gentleman who co-ordinates the sewing station in the warm-up area. Alain Cléro is 78 years old and sees no reason to retire from the judo family any time soon.
“I started judo while in the military, when I was 20 years old. I was in the Parachute Regiment in. It was a fairly short stint, just 18 months. After that I was a service manager in the electronic department for the American business group Singer Business Machines, who were contracted to NASA. I worked with computers. All the day I worked and all my evenings and weekends were for judo, well, for my wife also, but mostly judo.”
Alain’s first contact with the Tournoi was 40 years ago, when the event was still at the Coubertin. “I was on the Sport Commission for the French Federation for many years. I sat behind a computer, happy to be part of the organisation.”
Alain remembers the gradual formation of a very strong competition team that evolved over the years, now moving from event to event, within France, organising not only the Paris Grand Slam but the various French Championships and other international tournaments. It’s like a travelling machine, a judo pop-up of the highest caliber.
“At the Bercy, the situation changes year on year, to make space for the changing rules and all the protocols. I recall that when the new back numbers came in, the sewing room for Paris had ten machines and we worked hard changing all the back patches for all the competitors. I have been co-ordinating the sewing station for the last decade, moving out of the Sport Commission."
"I love working in this space instead of being behind the computer. Here I have direct communication with the athletes and it’s a big pleasure for me to help judoka from all countries to be properly prepared for their big day on the tatami. I can speak with people from all over the world and I see something very different and personal by being in the warm-up area."
Each year there are new stories. I tried to think of some special memories for you but each year I am here in Paris my love for it grows. It all adds to my experience and I’m grateful for it all. Every year there are new fighters and athletes from new countries on the podium. I have no bad experiences from Paris. It’s layer upon layer and it’s so rich and vibrant that it’s not possible to pull one special moment out of the bank.”
Alain did make one special mention though: Patrice Rognon, the organiser for Paris. Alain says, “He is the big boss here and really is everything a chief should be. Patrice is really the best. I have known him for more than 25 years and remember him when he was competing. He is a friend, it’s like working with a brother, or maybe even a son. Patrice takes care of us all.”
Alain will be in his place throughout the weekend, ready to repair back patches and ensure the judogi befit the judoka who wear them. Alain and his team take pride in solving the little stresses that can be a small part of an athlete experiencing Paris in the best possible way. This is honourable and is a true example humility at the highest level.