How are you doing despite your right ankle injury, which occurred at the end of August?
In the head it’s fine, now physically I take three weeks in the face because I’m not yet well cured but I’m positive because it had to be an operation at the start. The next step will be the world championships next May in Qatar. We will go step by step. We must not rush because the most important objective is the Olympic Games. My goal is not to be world champion again but to be Olympic champion in Paris and I can do it.
What will be your agenda for the next few months?
It’s going to be like this year with a test season. I’m going to go abroad to train, to find the best where they are, to take part in some important competitions.
“Is stopping when you like it and you’re better than before? No, I do not think so. »
Will this injury lead to a change in your preparation?
Sure. The last season that I have just spent is one of the best of my entire life. I am surrounded by a staff that I know and who are dedicated to my project where we spend quality time on the mat or in physical preparation. If I could and if I had the budget for each athlete to be in these conditions, France would be the best nation.
Is this injury still a big concern?
No, because all my career I have hidden injuries. There are plenty that you journalists don’t know about. Today it is obvious because I cannot participate in the world championships in Tashkent (October 6-13 in Uzbekistan). I often rode injured on competitions because my sport is a traumatic sport. I’m not taking any risks because two years before the Games I avoided the operation.
With hindsight your defeat against Tamerlan Bachaev from last year at the Tokyo Games, what did it change?
(cuts) What do you call defeat? Thanks to this bronze medal, I am the best judoka of all time. Yes, I would have liked to have gold but as I repeat to my family or to those who ask me the question, this bronze medal has a gold value for me. (He thinks). I do the crossovers a few months before the Games, I come back and I have two loose ligaments. Normally I didn’t have to do the Games. I come home with two medals, one gold (team) and one bronze, so I’m happy. No regrets and above all I say thank you because I believed in my project. So, yes, I have always used you to winning and never losing but I have become the most successful in my sport and I am proud of it. And besides, I want to drive the point home even more.
Do you envision a scenario where the Tokyo scenario repeats itself?
No because for me getting on the podium would be a source of pride. With the career I’ve had, I can’t envy anyone. I will give everything for the gold, even if the weight of the years plays a role just like health. If I come back with a medal, I sign right away. But that’s not what I want, I’m a gourmand, a big gourmand (smile).
Precisely this Olympiad at home, what flavor does it have?
I have people who have accompanied me all my life and who have never been able to see me in competition, even if it will not be easy to get tickets as we will not be in the biggest arena (Arena du Field of Mars). To be able to experience this in Paris is something extraordinary to be at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, at home, without jet lag. When the pressure will come, I will be with my loved ones in my cocoon.
We still feel the same passion, the same desire to win at home…
That’s why I say 2024, yes I’ll be there but if I keep enjoying it like that I’m going to go until 2028. Where and how do I know when to stop? Do you stop when you like it and you’re better than before? No, I do not think so. I’m waiting to be tired to leave judo. I want to continue.
>> READ ALSO: Five things to know about Teddy Riner
In 2028, you will be almost 40 years old…
No, don’t talk about annoying things, I’m still a young boy (he smiles).
Aren’t you afraid that in an impact sport, your body will let you down?
My body, it already shits. I no longer have cartilage. I have to do injections so that it doesn’t get stuck and creak. But I have a medical staff who help me, I do prevention and strengthening the forearms to overcome this.
How are you going to manage the increase in requests a few months before Paris-2024?
You will find me “bastard” but I want to pass the Games. If it takes two or three months before the start of the competition, cutting the press and doing little ten-minute interviews well before, I will do it. You must not miss it.
“There will be a lot of pressure because we will be scrutinized and we have to anticipate it now. »
So your agenda is already millimetered for the first months of 2024?
Yes, we are already in the process of fixing this right now.
With the sponsors too?
Yes, they already know that.
With the harvest of the Tokyo Games for judo (8 medals), there is also collective pressure…
We have always been a federation that brings back medals, we have this legitimacy. We are always present.
You are part of the “Team Decathlon” which brings together 33 athletes for the Games, where you have the role of captain. Is it natural for you?
No, it’s not natural because I’ve always been the youngest because of my precocity. But more and more people come to see me to ask me for advice and I answer. So it’s more something that happens naturally. But at first it was not easy.
I’m going to give them advice, in particular to manage the pressure of being at home, which I managed to grasp very early on thanks to a shrink. I don’t want the team to be attacked by stress. I want everyone to be in the best conditions to succeed in these Games and not miss out. There will be a lot of pressure because we will be scrutinized and we have to anticipate it now.
Isn’t the other pressure also to make people want to do your sport so that there are more licensees?
It has to happen naturally if it has to happen, you can’t force people. The graduates before the Covid will resume if we have results. Do not create an image because it will be seen and people are not idiots. We also have work to do internally in order to have more attractive courses. But judo, to be a little bit chauvinistic, it makes you want to because you learn a lot of things when you’re young: a moral code, life in a group, how to fall, how to move with your motor skills.
Within the “Team Decathlon”, you are athletes from different disciplines, what impact can that have on this group during the Games?
In the Olympic Village, which is a huge place, the teams of the different selections change from one Olympiad to another. So, on the one hand, I am known, but on the other hand it allows us to already have cohesion between athletes who would not necessarily have had a closeness from the start. It creates a dynamic. Because the village is something special. You get chills because when you walk into this place you know you’re at the Games. It’s an event that you come across nowhere else. Games are Games. Why do I want to go to the Games? Because that’s what adrenaline is. Wow! What am I going to do next? Where am I going to find this stuff?
How do you manage solicitations within the village?
I take selfies but you can take 30 to 40 minutes to make a small trip. It’s special, you have to anticipate it. In Tokyo, I returned as late as possible to the village. In Paris, I will go there for a day or two and I think that after that I will go from home to the competition. This universe of the Games is a spiral. I can’t explain it to you but the pressure can eat you. I will sleep at home with my family and children.
For the record, in Rio in 2016 I had an evening when it was impossible for me to sleep. I decided to take a taxi from the village to my wife’s hotel. The moment I got back to the room I saw my son and my wife then I slept like a baby. The next day the Games car was waiting for me and I was Olympic champion.