Shirine Boukli is adored in Paris. She lit up the Accor Arena last weekend with her performances and her energy. Both a forthright and technically aware judoka and one with individuality and team spirit, she combined all these elements and traits perfectly on her way to gold, winning the Paris Grand Slam for the first time.
Shirine Boukli's first Paris Grand Slam gold meant the world to her and to the French fans.

There is certainly an unwritten understanding that for the French team to perform in Paris is imperative, with internal and external pressures adding to the weight of expectation for all. It is expected that some of the young ones will do incredible things and knock out huge names. It is expected that the home grown number ones will stomp all over their categories to raise the volume of La Marseillaise as many times as possible over the three days. It is certainly expected that the other delegations will feel the might of French judo history and know that it is congregating against them now and in the pre-Olympic months to come.

This is not an easy environment in which to bring their best but somehow, year after year the French team meets expectations. Among them in 2024 is France’s most compact prodigy, 25 year old Shirine Boukli.

Shirine Boukli (FRA).

“The mood in the French team is good; we are excited. Selections for the Games are not yet complete but part of the team was announced at INSEP after the Europeans and that was a good moment. It released some pressure and so now all competitions are to prepare for the Olympics rather than to fuel selection; it’s all tests and solutions.

The pressure is off me as I have my place but we are really beginning to feel the time pass as now our grand slam is finished. The public and all French athletes, not just from judo, are excited about this special event. I want all of my energy and my mind in the right place as we move towards it.

The atmosphere is going to be amazing. It’s a smaller venue but a truly historic place and having felt the crowd’s energy at the Bercy so close to the Games and with the gold medal won, I feel confident to be able to win at the Olympic Games. I prepared to win here, like a championship, and it was successful."

In Paris, February 2024, effort was converted into accomplishment.

"Our team has a lot of success. Amandine, she’s so talented. At competition that kata-guruma is always so good to see, it’s motivating. She will fight early in the event as she is light like me. She’s funny too, a good person to have around. I remember when I started with the French team when I was young and I was her roommate for some time. I was with her a lot. She was cool."

Amandine Buchard's kata-guruma being used to great effect at the World Championships - Doha, 2023.

"Sarah’s judo is very strong, always with great positioning. She makes real impact with her attacks and I love to see the power she can create even from a great distance. Marie-Eve is also so strong. She doesn’t think or reflect for too long before doing, she just goes with often simple and efficient judo and it’s powerful; she makes it look easy."

The power of Marie-Eve Gahie (FRA) on the day she became world champion.

"Of course we have Clarisse too, the star of the team, and as a mum she is an inspiration for all women. She is an athlete at the highest level and it’s big for us to be around her.

I think although it’s in individual sport but you have to have the team. There is more motivation when it’s tough and these teammates know how difficult it is. Everyone is involved and shares the same sensations, the same moments; we are never alone. The team is the team and everyone brings something; it’s a special relationship. Perhaps it is difficult to understand for people outside the team but they are really so important.”

French team spirit at the Tokyo Olympic Games Mixed Team Event, 2021.

This French team is almost complete for the Games and while it continues to build, it also continues to study and improve. They will each feel the expectation and pressure to win at home but their secret weapon is that they will feel it together, will support each other through it and will enjoy sharing this unique summer of sport.

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