Haby Niare feels more and more starving as the Olympic tournament is coming up (August 17th-20th). European champion in 2010 at 16 years old (2nd in 2012), world champion 3 years later in 2013, the French woman would like to finish this new three-year cycle with a 3rd gold medal, the most coveted one, the most difficult one to be tamed, the Olympic Gold.
Considered as the tournament’s favourite, Haby Niare, 23 years old on June 26th, is aware that the path is not drawn yet. She knows where she fell down by the past, particularly at the 2015 Worlds (she was beaten 2-1 in ¼ finals by Turkish Tatar) and at the 2016 European championships (ranked 3rd, dominated 1-0 in ½ final by… Tatar).
She knows where she shouldn’t fall down, to toss her trump cards and invert her unfavourable cards that she has with her main opponents : 2 victories (at the end of 2015) and 5 defeats against Tatar, the world n°4 ; 1 victory (the last fight) and 4 defeats against Swedish Johansson, the world n°2 ; 2 victories and 3 defeats against Russian Baryshnikova.
In theory, Haby Niare should be opposed in final to Taiwanese Chia Chia Chuang, the running world champion, the world n°3, the most dangerous among all of her opponents. They have matched 3 times. The French leads 2 to 1, including the 2013 world championship’s final.
« I intend of keeping my world n°1 rank »
The world n°1 doesn’t fear anybody, but herself. She has been working hard again, after resting a little on her laurels. Always inspired – she invented the “Scorpion kick” – , our gifted champion love hotspot appointments. Her 1st Olympic Games look very hot….
How do you live the fact to be the world n°1 ?
Of course, it gives me confidence but, on the other side, I know that everybody will want to have my head at the Olympics. I am getting prepared to everything which can happen on D day. I intend of keeping my world n°1 rank and I feel ready for it.
Since your world title in 2013, have you developed your Taekwondo in order to fight differently as you are seen… differently ?
Some athletes tend to rest on their laurels. I did. After the world championships, I didn’t get many international podiums. Maybe because I wanted to keep doing what I was doing to get this title. I didn’t want to work something else, things that I didn’t acquire very well.
As I have matured, I realize that the Taekwondo I had in 2013 wasn’t enough anymore to win. I needed to train on other aspects, on things that I wasn’t able to do, that I didn’t like. That’s what I am doing.
« There were 3 seconds left… I made a mistake… »
For instance ?
I am a southpaw and I tended to only use my left leg. It worked quite well at the beginning of my career. But, today, my opponents know me very well. They know that my lethal weapon is my left leg. Some are clever and succeed in blocking it. I have to work my right leg. On D day, I will have all the necessary weapons to be Olympic champion.
Has your right leg make you already win some fights ?
For the moment, I couldn’t test that much this new guard. I started a little at the European Championships. The idea is to use it as a decoy. I would like to surprise my opponents. To go to Rio with a new weapon allows me to put a doubt in their heads.
How do you analyse your 3rd place in the last European Championship in April ?
It was not the main goal of this year but still, it’s always good to win a medal at this competition and, even more, to be the champion. It gives more confidence. It was a good thing to participate and to be confronted again to athletes who will be in the Games.
In ½ final, I was once more opposed to Turkish Tatar. I am used to ! (she laughs). I had won our 2 last matches but, at the Europeans, she beat me because I made a little mistake. There were 3 seconds left and I turned my head to watch the score. She scored. We learn from our mistakes and, this one, I would not do it again.
« A fight against myself on D day »
Who are you the most afraid of in Rio ?
Nobody, but myself. When I look at the listing, I met and beat most of them. As I have improved since, there is no reason that I would not do it in Rio.
I don’t fear any athletes. I am only afraid of myself. It would be a fight against myself on D day. I will have to remove all the bad thoughts of my head. Or, if I can’t do it, I will have to do with it.
What did you miss at the 2015 world Championships, when you lost your title (defeat 2-1 in ¼ final against Tatar) ?
In 2015, I wasn’t psychologically in the same spirit than in the 2013 Worlds. I knew I was not going to be world champion. I felt deep down that I wasn’t ready to be world champion again.
I felt that I gave everything but, in hindsight, I realized that I wasn’t ready. This defeat against Turkish gave me a lesson.
« I love trying weird things… »
What do you mean ?
At the 2015 Worlds and at the 2016 Europeans, I learnt some concrete things. When I watch my fights, I see that I made some big mistakes which I wasn’t supposed to do. Meanwhile, I am reassured to know where I failed. More I watch my fights, more I know what I have to work on.
You were European champion at 16 and world one at 19. Is it difficult to remain at high-level when you reached it so young ?
Oh yes, it is ! We must work and work again. Some people are really gifted and they succeed without forcing too much. As far as I am concerned, I may have some little facilities but I need to work.
With what technique would you like to win the Games ?
(She laughs) I don’t know…. A special kick to the head, a kick that nobody would have seen before, that I would have invented (she laughs). I like « magical » strikes. I love trying weird things… I would love to do one at the Games, that everybody says : « Ouaouh ! What the hell did she do ! ” (she laughs).
« We feel sometimes like freaking out… »
What is fun for you in Taekwondo ?
Actually, I love inventing new techniques, some weird head kicks. What I like in Taekwondo is the game. It’s a game ! To score first, to dodge strikes, to be the last one to score, for pride… (she laughs).
One month ahead of the Games (the interview was made on July 6th), how do you feel ?
Tired. That’s normal. We are preparing the Games. And we just came back from a one week camp in Cuba. But we don’t give up. One month ahead of the Olympics corresponds to the period where we train a lot. Moreover, we work on things we don’t especially like. Psychologically, we feel sometimes like freaking out, like having a nervous breakdown. But, In a few months, I will say : « ah yeah, I did all that ! And it paid off ! ». Well, I hope so. I work for it.
Crédit photo : Denis Sekretev / FFTDA