Following another hugely successful Paris Grand Slam in a sold-out Accor Arena, an IJF/EJU delegation and a group of judo stars recently had the unique opportunity to visit the Olympic venue for the first time. With the 2024 Paris Olympic Games being just around the corner, this visit was a special moment for the athletes, to experience the place where they will compete and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Located in the heart of Paris, the Champs de Mars sits beneath the iconic Eiffel Tower. The venue is surrounded by lush green grass, and large glass windows offer breathtaking views of the tower and the surrounding park. As the sun shines through the windows to where the Olympic tatami will sit, the venue is bathed in a warm, golden light, creating a welcoming atmosphere. 

The judoka were in awe as they entered the venue and took in the sights, realising that this is where they will be competing for Olympic glory next year. The excitement was palpable as they explored the grounds, visualised themselves competing and soaked in the unique energy of the Champs de Mars. 

“It's a dream, a beautiful dream to have the Olympic Games here in Paris,” said ten-time world champion and individual double Olympic champion Teddy Riner. “It's a big sensation and it’s great for me, it's great for my country. Now I just need to fight, I need to train hard to win the gold medal.”

World number one and two-time European champion Shirine Boukli of France shared similar sentiments, “It's historic to have the Olympic Games at home. It's difficult to explain but there really is a lot of emotion.” She went on to describe what she envisioned when entering the venue, “I can imagine the two big mats, see a lot of lights and hear a lot of French people all around the tatami. When the competition finishes, it will probably be dark so the Eiffel Tower will be sparkling with all of its lights. It's a really good experience to be able to see the venue before the Olympic Games.” 

Competing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower is a dream come true for many athletes. The iconic structure serves as a symbol of French culture and history and it's a spectacular sight to see. The tower provides a stunning backdrop for the judo matches, making it an unforgettable experience for both the athletes and the spectators. 

As world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Romane Dicko explains, “The Eiffel Tower is the monument that represents France the most and since judo is one of the biggest sports in France, it makes sense to have it here. I think it is a real privilege to compete in front of this monument. I can already feel the atmosphere in this venue and I feel very lucky to be one of the first judoka to see this place.”

Croatia’s two-time world champion Barbara Matic also recounts, “You can really feel the Paris energy and the French vibe here.”

The location of the Olympic venue in Paris is special not only for the people of France but also for the sport of judo. Paris has a rich history of hosting international sporting events and is known for its beautiful architecture and landmarks. For the athletes, competing in such a prestigious location will be an honour, and they will have the chance to showcase their skills and represent their countries in front of a global audience.

“It's so amazing and when you know that in 2024 the Olympic Games will be here,” says two-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Daria Bilodid, “It is truly a special feeling. The first thing I pictured was the crowd, the tribune, filled with people supporting the judoka. Then I pictured the tatami and looking out onto the city while I fight. I am sure it will be one of the best Olympic Games.” 

There was also lots of talk about the second-ever mixed-team Olympic competition. “Everyone knows the Japanese team will come back for revenge,” says Teddy Riner, “but I hope we will win again, this time at home. The French spirit is special. This is a team, a family. When we fight, we are one team, one people, and I know that all of the team, the whole federation, our families and our country will be on the tatami with us.”

After nearly beating the French team in 2021, Olympic bronze medallist Peter Paltchik shared his excitement and said the Israeli team is ready to change the colour of their next medal. “We are super passionate about the team event and we hope to upgrade the medal to a different colour.” 

Visiting the Olympic venue before the competition is a unique experience for the athletes. It allows them to get a feel for the space and its atmosphere. Competing in such a historic location is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it will surely be an unforgettable memory for the whole judo family. 

List of athletes present: Teddy Riner (FRA) | Daria Bilodid (UKR) | Jessica Klimkait (CAN) | Barbara Matic (CRO) | Rafaela Silva (BRA) | Eduard Trippel (GER) | Distria Krasniqi (KOS) | Lucy Renshall (GBR) | Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO) | Telma Monteiro (POR) | Michaela Polleres (AUT) | Romane Dicko (FRA) | Shirine Boukli (FRA) | Axel Clerget (FRA) | Peter Paltchik (ISR)

Photos: © EJU/IJF, Gabriel Juan

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