Did the taste of success in Tunis (January 19th), two years after your gold medal at the European Championships, help to feel better in your Judo ?
Yes, of course. Whenever I compete, I only aim for the first place. I take fight by fight but my goal is always to win. So I felt good to win again on a Grand Prix. In addition, the day went very well. I put beautiful Ippons (he smiles).
I also participayed to the Yekaterinburg Grand Slam where I faced opponents who are very, very strong : the World champion in the ½ finals (Smetov), and then the Olympic champion for the bronze (Mudranov). I think it could have gone both ways. I lost but, overall, my improvement is good. Anyway, it belongs to the past. I always prefer think about what is going to happen.
Has the fact that you were not selected for the Paris Grand Slam made you react in someways ?
Of course, it stung my pride, but it has to happen sometimes. It’s useful. I was sad for my family. They like the Paris Grand Slam a lot. They love to go there. It’s a wonderful tournament, isn’t it ! But… The federation decided that it would take another way. Frankly speaking, I have pretty well stomached the thoughts.
The coaches did it the right way. They came to talk to me before. I was a little prepared for it. Well, it slapped me a little but, then, I went back to work even harder, and I won Tunis, and I made a good competition in Yekaterinburg. I am on my way.
I’m happy with what’s happening today, the staff around us, my club, everyone around me. It’s going very well and it has been a long time since it has been so good. Stephane Traineau (the French head coach) has arrived and he has accepted some things, he has opened doors and I think we all feel good today. I am happy. I am doing very well !
« I had to come to terms with a defeat that hurt me a lot. 2018 is mine »
Do you feel, do you experience the same sensations that you had in 2016 ?
2016 is 2016. I don’t like talking about the past. I have changed since. I have learnt to be more focused, I have introcuced some things in me work… The true, the real goal is to be Olympic champion. I work and try some things little by little, step by step. It is the right time to do it. The path is still very long. I am 22 years old, I am still young.
My sensations have always been there. It was just a matter that I had to come to terms with a loss that hurt me a lot (first round at the Rio Olympics). But that’s only sport. You have to move forward. 2016 is 2016. We are in 2018 and 2018 is mine !
How do you consider these European Championships, as a main goal or as a step towards the Worlds ?
I consider them as a main goal because all competitions are of course a goal, but it’s also a step towards the World Championships, towards a good ranking, towards Tokyo, towards the consecration, towards something magnificent. So, I I say to myself step by step. I move on and I don’t quit anything. My motivation is there, my determination is still there. Everything is fine !
It’s important to be, not ranked well in the ranking list, but the World n°1. There is something at the end of the story. My goal is to be the best, to be the strongest, to leave nothing to chance. I know all the guys. We all know each other. It will be ok.
Can’t you wait to be in Tel Aviv ? The pressure is rising…
Yes, of course ! It’s normal that I can’t wait to be there. It’s an European Championship. And we don’t want to lose at a championship. We want to do things properly. We want to mark the spirits. We want to please our family, to please the national staff, to show the coaches that they were right to believe in me. Because they believed in me. As I was not selected in Paris, I took another path and, in the end, I am still selected at the European Championships. I am proud. I am happy.
The pressure will rise gradually. First, I have to lose weight. The weekend before the competition, we try to relax, breathe a different kind of air, to think of something else. I listen to music, watch some movies. I hope that stress will come at the right time, nor too soon, neither after.