Romain Valadier-Picard: Balancing Engineering Studies and Judo Success

At 21, Romain Valadier-Picard continues his engineering studies at the Léonard-de-Vinci Engineering School in La Défense in parallel with his status as a high-level athlete, which he assumes with ambition and lucidity.

European champion and third in the Junior World Championships in 2021, the licensee at Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt stood out among the seniors that same year by climbing onto the podium at the Paris Grand Slam. Third again in the Junior Worlds in 2022, and third in the Baku Grand Slam, the student of Romain Poussin has since firmly established himself in the world Top 15 by winning the Linz Grand Prix and the Warsaw Open this year, signed a second place at the Ulanbator Grand Slam and a third at the Budapest Masters.

A great promise: Valadier-Picard takes bronze again

When did you realize that you were made for the top level? Was there a result or event that played a role in your journey to the elite?

Romain Valadier-Picard: It was not a result but the Covid epidemic. I told myself that I would probably stop in Juniors, that I would not do a high-level sport. And then Covid allowed me to take a break and realize that I really liked judo. It’s a life that I missed, made me realize that I wanted to continue on this path and go as far as possible.

In your category, is there a world of difference between juniors and seniors?

RVP: I started Senior competitions in Junior second year, so it’s been a good two years now. It’s not easy in Seniors: it’s more physical, rougher, harder to bring down, more precise on the hands; more vicious too. We had to come to terms with it. The judo that I did in Juniors, where I attacked a lot, where I kneeled a lot, where I fled a lot when I was caught, was not a judo that allowed you to win in Seniors. So I had to evolve a little and today I attack a little less, I’m stronger on the hands, more precise. I’m a little smarter: I’m also trying to learn how to win other than by knocking down (editor’s note: by pushing the opponent to take penalties). Unfortunately it’s judo. We can win like that too.

How do Romain Poussin, your coach at the ACBB, and Guillaume Faure, your lead coach in the French team, complement each other?

RVP: In the French team, we changed the national technical director a year ago. At first, I didn’t see this in a good light, but the advantage with this new configuration is the communication between the coaches of the French team and clubs. You can work in a club as well as in the French team. I take the best from each coach. Romain brings me this technical and reassuring side: he always sees the good side, where I see the bad. Ditto in the French team with Guillaume from a technical point of view on his hands. With Romain, we also do a lot of video analysis.

How did you develop your “special” (tokiu waza)?

RVP: Contrary to what you might believe, I don’t work on my tokiu waza – morote seoi otoshi – much in training: it really hurts my knees and I try not to do it too much in randori (i.e. training, editor’s note) to keep him in competition. At INSEP, people are starting to know me and they don’t take it anymore. What I work on is not my technique but rather everything around it: the feints to achieve it and the other techniques because judo is evolving a lot. I used my morote otoshi a lot and there are a lot of videos in Seniors. So I’m working more on how to bring it, or feint on morote otoshi to bring another technique.

You found yourself impatient in Juniors. Are you now less eager to attack?

RVP: At the Senior World Championships (in August 2022), I took three shido on false attacks, in Tbilisi (in March 2023) I also lost in the 1st round – while I was leading – because I rushed. In Seniors, you have to put down your judo, be more patient. I’m starting to know how to do it well. It took me a long time – almost a year – and it allowed me to have a few medals on the circuit since March-April.

Do you always have the principle of imposing your judo, of applying your plan at the risk of not having an alternative, or do you adapt to the opponent?

RVP: I wouldn’t say that I adapt to the opponent but I adapt to his form to impose my judo and prevent him from producing his own. But hey, from time to time we start with a plan in mind and we realize that the opponent doesn’t have the same judo because he has observed me and adapted to me. You then have to readjust. Against Francisco Garrigos (editor’s note: the reigning world champion whom he beat for 3rd place at the Baku Grand Slam in September), for example, my plan was to come to the back and push him away, except that I since he was leaning on himself to climb up and stick to me, which I don’t like at all. So, I played the whole match in set-in-set. It stopped him from doing that and it really upset him.

What type of judo or fighter is causing you problems today?

RVP: The guys who stick, but I’m starting to get better and better at knowing how to deal with them. I lost to them, I learned. But the judo that I haven’t managed to beat is Japanese: they are in the same sector as me, backhand, and until then they have been better than me. I took (Ryuju) Nagayama twice and lost twice. I still have progress to make.

Valadier-Picard was so close: his final against Nagayama on video

What did you learn from working with them during your university internship in Japan?

RVP: It’s not the same judo as in France: it’s physical without being as physical. In France, when you raise your hand, you get attacked and hit. Japanese judo is completely different: they try to place their hands without hitting you; they are going to do judo. The fights are much longer. It’s much less physically impactful and it’s much more technical. In France, doing six-minute fights is hard because we put a lot of intensity into it. In Japan, the intensity is lower, except that it is much more technical, much more precise. It is not more open but more precise.

You were selected for the World Championships in 2022 but not in 2023. Was it a twist or a disappointment?

RVP: I didn’t really expect to be selected in 2022, I was still a Junior. I was coming off a performance at the Grand Slam in Paris and Budapest the year before but it was a bit by default because no one was medaling. In 2023, I clearly did not deserve my place: I had underperformed. The disappointment had come before with my poor performance.

Do you have a program in mind to move forward towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games?

RVP: I don’t have one: I take competition after competition. I can’t imagine myself doing the Games or anything yet. I am participating in the European Championships and a place in the Games is to be won. For the moment, I haven’t won it and the competition is tough.

What will be your program after the European Championships?

RVP: I don’t know. Two weeks after the European Championships, there are the French Championships, and two more weeks after the Tokyo Grand Slam. Three competitions in six weeks can be done, but it’s a risk of injury.

I suppose you feel the need to do more and more competitions, to have those better ranked than you in your hands to know how to fight them like Nagayama…

RVP: Yes. Nagayama, I had taken him in training but in competition he was not the same man. Otherwise, I had the first twenty in my hands during training or in competition. We obviously learn from them but the opposite is also true. You have to learn from your defeats, know your opponents inside out because Grand Slams are always decided on details. In Juniors, I didn’t know all my opponents, but in Seniors we all know each other.

2023-11-02 01:01:03
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