“I was psychologically sunk, I thought about giving up judo”

Inside the Benimaclet High Performance Judo Center, Ana Pérez Box (Alicante, 1995) trains her physique and her head. Because the clouds lasted longer than expected for an athlete who was runner-up in the world and an Olympian in Tokyo in 2021. The ghosts of her injuries led her through a maze of uncertainty around her career as an athlete. Her recent bronze in Tel Aviv made the judoka from Alicante smile again. The sun came out again. 617 days later.

What a storm has had to go through in 2022?

Well yes, everything has happened to me. I had to have surgery on my hand after the Olympic Games, then I had COVID and different injuries such as torn ligaments in my finger or a torn hamstring and when it seemed that everything had already happened, before the World Cup I had another injury. It was only in October of last year that I was able to participate in some Grand Slams and at the end of the year in a Master’s where I got seventh place. I felt very happy because after that disastrous year, it was very important to feel good competing. This year I started well with fifth place in the Portuguese Grand Prix, I felt that the medal would come soon.

More than 600 days passed from the world runner-up in Budapest in 2021 to the silver medal in Tel Aviv. What has this medal meant?

It was not the fact of the medal itself, but the feeling of competing well again and being there again. Everything that is behind and the people who were accompanying me. In the end, after the Olympic Games and the second place in the world, it seems that you are on the crest of the wave of your career and then you can’t come back. It has been one of the most special medals for the fact of feeling happy again as an athlete.

Ana Pérez Box with her silver medal achieved in Tel Aviv, along with her coach Sugoi Uriarte. A metal that is an injection of morale after all. FJCV

What was the mental process you had to go through to feel this good again?

You come from being very well, from getting good results and then the injuries come. I had a very bad time in that transition after the Games. After going through the operating room, I did not expect to have such a bad year and everything becomes more difficult. I was psychologically sunk. If you ask people who know me, I love judo. But what I really love is competing. Competition is my natural habitat. And not being able to compete was something that was sinking more and more. I was truly sunk. Luckily I work with my sports psychologist because if she hadn’t given me up. Throughout this season I have told my psychologist many times: «I’m leaving judo. We’ve come this far.” I felt that I couldn’t take it anymore and that judo no longer made me happy. I always said that I would train and compete in judo as long as it makes me happy. And that’s why I wanted to leave it. How am I going to do something that doesn’t make me happy? I was crushing day after day and when I went to train I did it without desire. It wasn’t right.

Ana Pérez Box, in a fight. Night Juan

What does it mean to you to be able to compete?

The competition is like my natural habitat, I like judo, but competing is my habitat. I saw that the competitions were coming and I was not 100% and I ended up melting. That’s why I talked about it with my sports psychologist, if it wasn’t for her I would have given up. The subject of the head is very important at a sporting level, but in judo you have to train it how you train your muscles and your technique. The vast majority of the triumphs that are won in judo are won with the head. That has been very important. If my sports psychologist, my parents and my partner had not been behind me pushing me I would not continue doing judo.

I saw that the competitions were coming and I was not 100% and I ended up melting. That’s why I talked about it with my sports psychologist, if it wasn’t for her I would have given up

Is the figure of the sports psychologist so important?

Within the world of sports, we knew it was absolutely necessary. But someone from the outside sees that someone consults a psychologist so often and says “she’s crazy” or they call you “you have problems in your head.” For athletes it is one more training. With my psychologist I have planned things that I have applied in competitions. I don’t sit down and talk to her about how my life is going. I sit down to prepare my competitions and training. It was super important that someone like Simone Biles did what she did. She gave importance to the figure that the sports psychologist had for us and to understand it as something natural and that doing therapy is good and can solve many things that we did not think could help.

The medal is important, but also the sensations of feeling good, right?

The medal is always the goal, but over time you learn that, even if you don’t have the medal, the competition can be very useful for your feelings. My goal is the medal, but also to stay there. And ratify that I am growing. I want to go out on the mat and feel happy… That is the greatest reward.

I want to go out on the mat and feel happy… That is the greatest reward

How are you for what lies ahead?

In the last tournaments I have participated to get points, but in the end I am going to face the World Cup with the intention of repeating the podium. I am happy that it was not the World Cup last year due to the injury, because I was not in a good moment and it would have been a bitter pill. This year I do have the desire and drive to go for the medal and continue adding points in the standings.

How are you with just over a year to go before the Olympic Games?

I’m pretty calm. It is true that we have to qualify, but my ultimate goal is to be fighting for an Olympic medal. When you have already achieved the first, the second you live more calmly. You take it as training for big goals. I am calm because I already know what a classification is, the nerves, having a bad time, counting points. Now that to me this is totally alien. I have no idea how I am doing in the Olympic rankings, I have no obsession with it. In the end it is to compete and do what you like and that’s it. I don’t see beyond that. Qualifying is not a merit but the path to the Olympic medal.

Ana Pérez Box celebrates a victory with her coach. Night Juan


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