At 37, Axel Clerget (FRA) is a pillar of the French Judo team. Having participated in the last Olympic Games in Tokyo and having won the coveted title of mixed team Olympic champion with the French team, he has acquired a great deal of experience during his career that makes him a key witness to tell us about the preparation of an athlete for the Games. Still in the running a few weeks ago, to qualify for the Paris Games, he was ultimately not selected this year at -90 kg, but is nevertheless a reserve in the -100 kg category. He must therefore continue to prepare just in case. He tells us about these last few weeks for all the judoka who will be in action in the French capital from 27th July.

"It's a pretty special time for everyone. I know that before Tokyo I was extremely motivated and I was in a kind of bubble. In general, for example, I'm a good-natured person. I like to socialise and be surrounded by my family and friends. Before Tokyo, I went out with friends one day and I found myself in front of a beer. In fact, I didn't even want it. I didn't want to put something in my body that could be detrimental to my performance. It's the only time in my entire career that I had this feeling. That shows you how special the Games are.

I was focused and totally committed to my project. I was doing everything in my power to recover as well as I could, to watch my diet and manage my sleep. I gradually felt that my rigour in all areas was increasing.

About three weeks before the Games, this exact period we are in now, is when the pressure really starts to be felt. This is when the fear of injury, for example, is the most intense because we are aware that it can change everything, turn everything upside down.

If we can't win the Games three weeks before, it is at this moment that we can lose them but I think the most important thing is to tell ourselves that the work is done. All we have to do now is fine-tune things. We have to have confidence in that. Above all, it is not now that we have to change everything we have done for so many years.

At three weeks before the competition, training can still be tough, physically speaking. We do the last sessions that are painful and it is therefore at this very moment that we can get injured but we have to know not to overdo things. I know that at this precise moment, before Tokyo, that is when my stress was at its maximum. Finally, the closer the event got, the more I relaxed and when I arrived in Japan I found my routine and habits and that reassured me.

It is imperative to focus on everything you already know how to do and you have to tell yourself that it is a competition like any other. This is not the case, we all know that, but you have to convince yourself of it to be as relaxed as possible. I have been doing judo for thirty years, so I have to be able to capitalise on this experience. I also know that before being here, I won medals and therefore I know that I am capable and that I am strong.

Throughout this process, my family and those around me have been major assets. As you get older, you realise that they are often the ones who help you get your head out. In my case, my children have been invaluable. We must not forget that the person we live with, in this case my partner, they have also experienced all the stress of the preparation and therefore she also suffers all the tension that it generates. We are not alone on this boat. We have to protect the people we love. I was lucky to be very well surrounded. You have to be careful to surround yourself with people who support you, understand you and accompany you. Having people around you who allow you to think about something other than the Games is very important. In my case, I know for example that before and during the Tokyo Games, the medical staff were key resources.

As I said, three weeks before, it's really the pivotal period. When there are about two weeks left, we really enter the last phase of sharpening, a time in which you find freshness and lightness.

For this summer, obviously it was a disappointment not to be selected, but I remain an -100 kg reserve just in case. I don't wish misfortune on anyone. I know too well how much the Games are a unique experience but if necessary I will be ready in a category that is not really mine. If that were to be the case and I repeat, it is not an objective in itself, I will be there and it would be exceptional to end my career like that, so I continue to train. The most important thing is that I do not have a weight problem (laugh).

Of course, I have fond memories of the Tokyo Games and especially the mixed team tournament. It was an unforgettable moment. I know that this competition format is very popular in the judo world of course but also well beyond. Between judoka, we know that an individual title is something very special but for the general public it's the same, an Olympic champion title is an Olympic champion title. The fallout is magnificent, many doors opening. We experienced magnificent things in Japan and this summer's tournament promises to be incredible. Honestly, it was crazy! For us athletes, it's an incredible thing. We are happy to be able to represent the colours of our country. For the public, it's easy to understand.

It's no longer a question of ippon, waza-ari or shido, but of who brings home a point for their team; the public just needs to understand the points. But above all, during the team tournament, we see emotions. It must be said that often people don't realise the effort we make to reach this level. So when we don't let our joy burst forth, they have the impression that everything is normal. As a team, we can share everything we feel. People around us are shouting, encouraging us and we are doing the same. In judo we tend to stay as calm and respectful as possible but there is so much effort involved."

It was with these words that Axel went back to his training to be ready to relive all these emotions, just in case. Whatever happens, during the Games we will be able to find him in 'Club France' where he will continue to share his experience with pleasure.

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