Interviewing an Olympic champion is something special and always delivers thought-provoking words and ideas; it’s a unique kind of education. Following the stories of the first 36 Olympic champions in the series, winners from 1976 to 2021, we now share the words of Marie-Claire Restoux, Olympic champion in Atlanta in 1996 in the -52 kg category.
Marie-Claire Restoux. Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

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 journeys 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?

“It is really a bit of both. At the beginning you don’t know you will be Olympic champions. It happens because you like it and you are ready for what it takes even if you can’t specify what that means exactly."

Marie-Claire Restoux (FRA) against Sook-Hee Hyun (KOR) in the -52 kg Olympic final, 1996. Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"You analyse every element of your competitions, especially when you lose. When something goes wrong you must reflect and analyse, analyse and find what it takes to change something in a good way, for a better outcome. It is a game.

I like competition and challenge. Competiton allows me to know myself and also to know who I am compared to others. Without the opponent there is no real information."

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"You become an Olympic champion or rather I became Olympic champion, half with some natural qualities. Also along the path I questioned myself a lot, all the time, and found good answers to help me become a champion. Half was because of who I was but the rest came from my path and experiences, those needed to gain the necessary confidence.

In our introduction we talked about Olympic champions being at the top but this is only in their specific field which is judo. However, it is transferable to everyday life, to work. The title makes us unique people but we take that knowledge and experience with us. It’s a plus for our professional life because as judoka we can read others, read them physically and can understand behaviours. Judo makes us understand this. It’s easier for judoka to understand body language due to that physical proximity we lived with during our formative and competitive career.

I manage a team of 20 people now for a big company and judo gave me the experience to do this. I’m a good manager because of who I am, because I’m confident, honest and open. Because of who I am but also because of my experiences, my team respect me. Sport at the high level is a school, the most beautiful school to prepare you for afterwards.”

Did the medal change you?

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

“It changed everyone else’s view of me and that had its own impact, so the medal strengthened my confidence.”

Why you, though? Why didn’t one of your opponents become Olympic champion that day instead of you? They were all competitive and all trained hard.

“It was me because mentally I was the strongest, psychologically; I had worked at it and was ready. First, I wanted it and second, in the year before, I won the world title, in 1995, even though I wasn’t supposed to attend. I was the reserve and replaced an injured athlete. That win opened the door to the Games and qualified the place for France but not necessarily for me due to a different qualification system then from the one we see now. In Atlanta, a year after I became world champion, I wanted to prove that my world title was not just luck."

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.

"The Olympic final was against the Korean and she had beaten me at the Tournoi de Paris in just 18 seconds so the final of the Olympic Games was a sort of revenge contest. It was a mental victory because the opponent was technically and physically strong but I prevented her from expressing her judo and the more I did that, the more I had the advantage. That takes us back to the analysis I mentioned before.

I was always smiling, throughout my career. It was a great game! It was of course always more fun to win than to lose and I always hated to fall; I would do everything not to be thrown. You know, though, it wasn’t betting on my life.”

Photo by David Finch / Getty Images.
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