Judoka Böhm and Wagner in a duel: Both can become world champions – only one can go to the Olympics

As of: May 20, 2024 1:19 p.m

Anna Maria Wagner and Alina Böhm are outstanding judoka from Germany. However, only one is allowed to start at the Olympic Games in Paris – it boils down to a thrilling duel for qualification.

It’s a thrilling duel. Two top German athletes are fighting for an Olympic ticket. Anna-Maria Wagner, former world champion, and Alina Böhm, two-time European champion. Both start in the weight class up to 78 kilograms. The Judo World Championships (May 19th to 24th) in Abu Dhabi mark the end of their intense battle to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris.

Both are allowed to compete at the World Championships, but only one of them is allowed to compete at the Olympics. “It’s pretty tough because we would both be medal candidates at the Olympics,” says Böhm. No exaggeration, because the Cologne woman, like her competitor Wagner, is one of the most successful judo athletes in the world in 2024. Both are exuding a lot of self-confidence these days.

It’s no coincidence, because the two always only took top places in almost all international competitions. At the beginning of May, at the last Grand Slam tournament before the World Cup, the winner was Wagner and the silver medalist was Böhm. Anna-Maria Wagner is correspondingly optimistic about the World Cup in Abu Dhabi, feels “perfectly fit” and thinks that she “can be at the top.” Alina Böhm also answers the question of whether she is stronger than ever on the judo mat with a clear “yes”.

Daily training together

Everything could be perfect. Unfortunately for both of them, there is only one Olympic berth per country in each weight class for the Paris Games. Anna-Maria Wagner is currently number three in the global Olympic rankings, Alina Böhm is number five. The duel has not yet been decided. It could even happen that Böhm becomes world champion, but her competitor is still ahead in the points standings.

Not an easy situation for Claudiu Pusa either. “Both have the champion gene, both are super focused and deliver their results to the point,” is how the national coach describes the qualities of his athletes. What’s particularly piquant is that both competitors train at the Olympic base in Cologne and meet each other practically every day. Compete in Randori, as the practice fights in Judo are called.

Judoka Alina Böhm wants to go to the Olympic Games in Paris

In order to be able to judge as objectively as possible, the association has had both athletes start at the same tournaments since the beginning of the year. Absolute equality of opportunity. This has also created an intensity of competition that is otherwise rare in everyday sport. The two will have fought in seven major tournaments before the Olympics, including the World Championships. For comparison: Before the Games in Tokyo, the later bronze medal winner Anna-Maria-Wagner only competed in four.

Big burden

“Every time there’s the stress of traveling, different time zones, concentrating, ramping up, doing weights, the physical strain of the competition. At some point it’s too much,” Pusa explains his worries. So far, however, nothing of this has been visible on the mat. Wagner in particular was extremely consistent. She finished all competitions in which she took part on the podium.

The Ravensburg native won two important Grand Slam tournaments. “That took a lot of energy. But since it went very well, it also strengthened my self-confidence that I am one of the top judoka in the world,” says the former world champion, describing her current emotional state.

For the 28-year-old, such a duel for a ticket to the Olympics is not new territory. In 2021, before the Tokyo Games, her opponent was Luise Malzahn. Back then, however, it wasn’t quite so close. And it was a competitor she didn’t see every day in training. “From my point of view, it’s a big advantage for Anna-Maria that she knows such a situation. However, this time it’s the other way around. This time she’s the established one and Alina is the pursuer,” the national coach’s assessment.

“The pressure is overwhelming”

But her opponent also still has high hopes of being able to take to the mat in Paris. Understandably. Because Alina Böhm also managed to be on the podium in four of the six competitions so far. In the other two, she lost in a direct duel against Anna-Maria Wagner. An opponent that she wouldn’t be able to meet at the Olympics if she qualified. “The pressure is overwhelming. It’s brutal,” says Böhm, giving an emotional insight into how she experiences this months-long, almost merciless tension. “Always having to be fit, always giving full throttle, always being at the forefront. That takes a lot of energy.”

Before the World Cup in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, both athletes are separated by 1,167 points in the qualification ranking. As things stand, Wagner has the better cards. But a judo athlete gets 2,000 points for winning the world title. If Böhm becomes world champion and Wagner only comes fifth, the younger one would still be overtaken in the rankings. So high voltage is guaranteed.

On the Monday after the World Championships, the Judo Association will submit its proposals for the Olympics to the DOSB. At the moment no one can say which name will be on the list for the 78 kilogram weight class for women.

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