If there is one athlete who cannot be surprised by the Olympic Games uniqueness and scale, it has to be Gwladys Epangue. The French woman participated in her 1st Games in 2004, at 21 years old. But, put under pressure, she lost on the 1st round against Italian Corsi. In 2008, in Beijing, at a time when electronics was not yet on duty, she lost in ½ final against Korean Hwang Kyung-Seon. She then won the bronze medal.
In the aftermath, she won two world titles, in 2009 (-67 kg) and in 2011 (-73 kg), the London Olympic qualification world tournament. She was then invincible ! That year, for sure, she couldn’t miss the Olympic gold medal. But…
« My body was exacting its revenge, because I had tortured it ». At the beginning of 2012, 8 months ahead of the Games, a bones tuberculosis is diagnosed. If Gwladys keeps practising sports, she risks to be handicapped for life. Step by step, little by little, she is going to humanly and competitively reconstruct herself.
Even if she starts again to compete as soon as 2013, things are going to take time. She wins some Opens but it’s not anymore (not yet) the all-star « Glad ». Gradually, the miracle happens. A great victory of mind over body. Glwadys Epangue is back…
“It’s always difficult for the front-runners”
In May 2015, Gwladys Epangue comes back to top level and plays her 5th world final (+73 kg), which she lost against British Bianca Walkden. One month later, she wins the 1st European Games. In the final (+67 kg), she dominates the running Olympic champion, Serbian Mandic, in their unique fight so far. The French woman is back but she needs points for the ranking in order to qualify to the Games, because her lack of results during 3 years handicapped her seriously.
She is going to carry out her task very properly. She qualifies at the beginning of December 2015, in the Guadalajara Grand-Prix Final. But, a new (very) hard blow occurs. She is injured : a left knee ligament rupture ! The Olympic Games go away once more…
But, barely 5 months after her surgery, Gwladys Epangue walks back to Dojang. 8 month after this new accident, she is going to fight to win a 15th (!) medal at the international, the only that she lacks, the Olympic gold.
An Olympic gold medal, it obviously must be earned…
At the Games, it’s always difficult to win, especially for the front-runners. The underdogs take an enormous dimension. They seize the opportunity to be at the Games. They live them by the horns.
On their side, the front-runners are put a lot under pressure. We made them understand that they are expected to do something. So, it can inhibit them. On the contrary, it can give strength and courage to those who are not expected. The underdogs are not put under pressure and they can enjoy the experience. It’s more difficult for a front-runner
“It’s all about the present moment”
Do you see yourself as the front-runner of the tournament ?
No, not at all. The running World champion (+73 kg), British Bianca Walkden (who is also the 2016 European champion), the running Olympic champion, Serbian Mandic (2016 vice European champion in -73 kg), the Grand-Prix final winner in Mexico, Chinese Shuyin Zheng (2015 vice world champion in -73 kg) are all in. I am not all of that.
But you are twice world champion…
Yes, but not today. It was a long time ago. It was 5 years ago.
Do you often think of this gold medal ?
Huuum, yeah, I think quite often about it. But, before all, I am thinking about what I have to do. I have been telling myself the work I have to complete and, most of all, how I can succeed in it. I have been thinking of the implement.
To your mind, what is going to make the difference in Rio ?
It will be a question of timing. We prepared everything. We scheduled everything. But we will have to be in the present moment and seize the opportunities which will be given to us, or create some good ones. It’s really all about the present moment.
How your former Olympic experiences are going to help you in Rio ?
I will not discover what is going to happen. That’s simple as this. On the contrary, I am going to use all I know about the Games organization to make it a strength. I know the process, the demands that would be multiplied, the expectations that are going to surround us. It allows me to go there a little more serenely.
“My mental strength rarely betrayed me”
What do you fear most in Rio ?
I will have to be wary of everybody. But, if I succeed in keeping up my level, it would be hard for the girls.
You are known to have a will of steel. How is it, after all your hardships?
It’s still my first strength, otherwise how de you explain that it took me 6 months to come back (she had a surgery in December 2015 due to a knee ligament rupture). I am 33 years old. My physical abilities are not anymore my 1st trump card. My mental strength rarely betrayed me. I had convinced myself that I will be in Rio. My will of steel is my n°1 tool in achieving performance.
Despite this strength, did you have some moments of doubt ?
Yes. One… When doctors tell you that you will never practice Taekwondo again… You are thinking : « ah, okay ! » (in 2012, she had a bones tuberculosis).
Besides this instant, I haven’t any moments of doubts. Even this one didn’t last long. The doctor said it, I swallowed the sentence but, in my head, I instantly thought : “we will see”.
My body was exacting its revenge, because I had tortured it. We lack sleep. We go all around the planet without taking much rest. We make one competition after another one. At some point, the body says stop.
“It’s a great human adventure”
Have you changed your Taekwondo ? If so, how ?
My Taekwondo has evolved because the scoring system has changed. Even if the basics are the same, I had to change my game in order to be efficient. But all these changes have nothing to do with my physical problems.
What gives you fun in Taekwondo ?
I love two things. First, the human adventure that is provided, with my bodies of the National team : travelling with them, doing competitions, aiming the same goals and trying to succeed in it. It’s really a great human adventure. We discover characters. I am not especially in this field to make friends but, eventually, it happens that we make beautiful meetings.
The 2nd point is that I love to win (she laughs). It’s good, it’s cool. And it validates the work we made at trainings. It’s always a nice feeling.
When did you get back to training ?
I started Taekwondo again at the beginning of May. I had already started my physical work as soon as February. It’s so good to go back on mats, at training, at competition.
I participated to my 1st tournament at the beginning of June. It was the Greek Open. I won it (3 victories). I felt quite good. I felt good confidence. My technical training was good. I just had to test it with high oppositions to validate my work.
“A good opposition”
You were spoiled with the Korean Team camp in the French Olympic center (June 6th-10th)…
It was really helpful and interesting. They are strong and very good technically. They feel the fight. Moreover, all the girls who came qualified their category for the Games. They had a very good level. I fought against the world champion. It was a good opposition.
And, afterwards, you went to Cuba at the end of June, for a one week camp. How was it ?
I really liked it. It was a good experience. We went there to find a good opposition with girls who have noteworthy results in Panamerican and World tournaments and who had participated to the Games. We had much to learn. Moreover, they are very, very combative girls. It was good for me. It helps me to get back into the swing.
Crédit photo : FFTDA