We introduced the statistics, the almost impossible feat and the question in our first article in the series, which can be found here:
A reminder of the question:
It could be said that to be in the company of an Olympic judo champion is to be presented with someone whom has reached an absolute pinnacle, a ceiling which cannot be surpassed; there is nowhere further to ascend in the world of sport. We often find Olympic champions speaking with freedom and certainty, unafraid to share an opinion, speaking of their lives and paths with confidence. For many we feel there is peace, and that can be magnetic and inspiring.
So the question is, did they become Olympic champion because of that character or did they become that person having won the Olympic gold medal?
“I do judo because I love it; it’s one of the best, most beautiful sports. Of course, all the time in my life has been geared towards qualifying for the Olympic Games and representing my country in the best way possible. This event is the best event in the world for all sports. When I qualified for the first time, in London, I finished in 7th place and at that moment I said I would like to win a medal at the Olympic Games. In all of judo’s history there was just one medal before for Czechia, in Moscow. In my head I said that I would like to win that medal, one of any colour and I would do anything for it."
"In London I lost in the quarter-final and took 7th place. It was really nice but I knew after that, that I could win an Olympic medal. The year after the Olympics I did everything to win a medal at the Europeans and worlds and actually at all other events. Every day I did my best for the future. In 2013 I was European champion and one year later I was world champion for the first time. It was all going in a good way towards the Olympic Games. Before the Games though it was really hard because many people in Czechia said I would be the Olympic champion but we all know that in judo it takes just one second to lose."
"In Rio I had Fonseca first and then the 2008 world champion from Kazakhstan and then Haga (JPN) who was world champion in 2015. The semi-final was against Cyril Maret who had beaten me twice before. The final was against Gasimov (AZE) who also beat me twice prior to that day. All the contests were really hard and I had to be ready to not just give 100% but really to give everything. I was ready and it was my day! It was something special not just for me but also the whole of Czechia. From the whole Games there was just one gold for our country and it was me, for judo! I said then that I wanted to continue in the heavyweight category instead and I would like to win the same medals that I already won in the lower -100kg category."
"Moving up, I knew it was something I would like to do but I also knew it was a bit crazy. It was a new motivation though and in 2018 I won the Europeans at my new weight and in 2019 I won my second world title, the first at +100kg. I then did everything again for the Games but it was a really hard time with Covid and in Czechia I couldn’t get good preparation done, I couldn’t do enough. I always woke up in the morning having seen myself winning the medal and it was extra special for it to be in Tokyo. I love every competition there as judo was born there."
"I have this thing in me all the time that when I say something in my head I will do anything to get it. They weren’t all good days but it was really important for me at all events, even at the grand prix level, to still be aiming at the biggest matches. This meant the grand prix events were training, part of the way. Sometimes we can enjoy getting ready for hard matches but at the Olympic Games I really did all I could to be the most ready. I did everything to win."
"In Tokyo it was one of the best competitions for me ever because I went in with a clean head; I was without stress. I felt like it could even have been just a small comp at home. After every big event, like an Olympics, it is really hard to come back and win again and this is why I say in my head that I want to qualify in both categories for Paris 2024. All the time I need new goals in order to continue. I had to create some more reasons and motivation. I know I can compete in just one category eventually but to qualify in both is a reason to keep working at the best level.
"From judo I learn to be calm and intelligent. Judo demands real respect. I want to be a good person always. In Czechia we say that however we want to be treated, we must behave that way towards others. This idea came before the medals, maybe from coaches and parents. Maybe I take my values half from judo and half from my parents. I had these ideas always."
"I’m also thankful for how I was born and for the physical head start I have. It’s important for people who want to do sport at the high level to be healthy. Many judoka don’t stay healthy but I have been fortunate to have only small injuries, nothing too serious. I had just one tiny surgery once but with only two weeks of recovery. My brother had 8 or 9 surgeries and had to finish with judo. Maybe it’s training or maybe it’s just luck but I’m grateful for my physical condition."
"For sure I would be the same person with or without the Olympic gold medals. I like people who stay the same, who are true to themselves in every situation. Some athletes who win big medals, make big changes but I don’t like it when people change simply because of a medal.
Being Olympic champion changed my life but not me. Whether I win or not, I know I would have done everything for it. I have won many titles and to not win is also part of sport. If I win or not in Paris, it is ok.”