Judo Journey: Mihael Zgank’s Rise to the Top

Mihael ZGANK started this year with a double boom, first winning the Portuguese Grand Prix before going on to victory at one of the most prestigious, if not THE most prestigious events on the IJF World Tour, the Grand Slam from Paris. This allowed him to be among the top four in the Olympic rankings. Mihael’s journey in the world of judo began at a very young age.

I started judo at the age of 7 in primary school. I saw few of my friends and my cousin doing it, so I wanted to try too.

Loading titles… © Mihael Zgank Mihael collected gold medals from a very young age. © Mihael Zgank His playing face was defined some time ago. © Mihael Zgank

At first, Mihael was also accompanied by his older sister Barbara, who both became familiar with the feel of tatami. For five years, football was also on the agenda for him, but the Gentle way won. Subsequently, Mihael demonstrated a natural aptitude for the sport and quickly rose through the ranks. For him, role models like Urska Zolnir reinforced his passion for judo and pushed him to train tirelessly, perfecting his skills and techniques.

Urska was my role model then, she still is today. It’s thanks to her that I got into professional judo. She just won her first Olympic medal in Athens when I started judo.

Back row: Adrian Gomboc and Mihael Zgank.
Front row: Urska Zolnir and Rok Draksic. © Mihael Zgank

Mihael had the privilege of sharing the carpet daily with his idol, Urska Zolnir. One might ask, what does a judoka who represents Turkey in Slovenia do? Well, Mihael is Slovenian and has won many titles under his native country, including a world silver medal in 2017, where losing the final, incidentally, remains his worst nightmare. Shortly after, he moved to Turkey under the name Mikail Ozerler and won the European Games in Minsk in 2019. Ozeler also won gold on his new home soil by winning the 2019 Antalya Grand Prix. Later , he returned to Zgank, but 2019 delivered more;

Winning the European Championship in 2019 is the most memorable moment so far because I felt that this result was a product of my personal development.

Turkish supporters are therefore around Ozerler. © Turkish Judo Federation Most memorable: winning gold in 2019 at the Europeans. © Carlos Ferreira Antalya Grand Prix 2019: Mihael with the President of the Turkish Judo Federation, Mr. Sezer HUYSUZ. © Turkish Judo Federation

Unrelated to the name on his back, his performances never fail to impress. He is closest in his team to his coach Irakli Uznadze and his teammate Bilal Ciloglu. Since becoming a key member of the Turkish judo team, Mihael has managed to visit home every few months, depending on his training and competition regime. Judo is a big family; therefore, moving was easy.

Honestly, moving wasn’t a big difference because I think athletes and especially the judo world have similar values.

Mihael with his good friend and teammate, Bilal Ciloglu. © Mihael Zgank Hiking time. © Mihael Zgank Watch out for Mr. Woods… © Mihael Zgank

Besides football, Mihael gave two other possibilities if he didn’t like the game in his pajamas: psychology or maybe real estate. I thought he was grateful for the path he was on; he is eternally grateful for how judo saved him from a mediocre life. Mihael sees judo as a sport that challenges you daily and despises ups and downs, his motivation remains until the work is done. What else?

I am passionate about learning, growth and spirituality. I have big dreams, but I’d like to keep them to myself. What I want to achieve is to leave an impact on the world, lead by example and help humanity. Ultimately, I want to sleep with a clear mind, be happy and have a big family.

Over the years, Mihael has won numerous distinctions and titles in judo competitions, including a 5th place at the last summer games. At each event, as part of his ritual, he takes a cold shower after his breakfast. Whirling towards Paris 2024, the city of love has already brought success this year. The 2023 European bronze medalist admits to dwelling on thoughts about the Olympics but says they are strictly motivational. With all this in mind, surprisingly, the first word comes to mind when he thinks of the Paris Olympics;

Eiffel Tower

Mihael has already won a gold medal in Paris this year, can he also double that with a gold medal at the Olympics? © Gabi Juan The moment of gratitude. © Gabi Juan

Mihael’s nickname is Rhino which is his spirit animal. Speaking of which, the question was asked if he follows any specific spiritual groups to which he answered:

I’m not particularly spiritual, but I believe in a higher power.

Off-mat activities include reading a book, cycling, doing crosswords, golf, and watching watches. What will it be in 5 to 10 years?

Probably still near the judo tatami, I really can’t imagine my world without judo.

Beyond his competitive exploits, Mihael is also known for his sportsmanship and humility. He embodies the values ​​of respect, discipline and perseverance which are the basis of judo. His positive attitude and willingness to help and inspire others have made him a role model for aspiring judokas around the world. See you later, good luck Rhino!

Mihael Zgank and coach Irakli Uznadze. © IFJ


Weight category

184 cm


Migojnice (small village of Celje)

Favorite technique

Studies / Diplomas
Master of Education and Sport

Biggest lesson learned so far
Patience is the key.

Always choose the hardest choice.

Spaghetti Carbonara – when prepared correctly

Wine, green tea and water



Avicii Levels

Joseph Murphy – The Power of Your Subconscious Mind


Day of the week

Growth mindset

Top 5 things to do
Pilot a plane
Route 66
Swimming in the Bosphorus
Own a business

Author: Szandra Szogedi



2024-02-22 17:15:31


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