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Interview with Kaoru Matsumoto, Judo gold medalist at London 2012

She promised her mother she will be the Champion of the world one day, and she made her promise come true in the London Games. We asked her about her feelings after winning the medal

Promise to her mother
Four years before the London Olympics, I couldn’t make it into Peking Olympic team. I was so upset. So I promised myself I will make it to London by my passion, and I trained harder. I was happy when I was selected for the team for London, but I knew this was only the beginning. And I promised my mother the London Games will be a new challenge. I said I will bring my mum to the games, and I will win the medal in front of my mother. I swore.

Passion and Patience
When I was selected for the team for London, I adjusted my emotions when training: I was now aiming for the gold medal. I hate losing. I decided to observe my opponents fight before I faced them, which helped me to beat them. And being patient is a key element for winning; when things don’t go according to plan, I have to be be patient, start to think, then attack. I will try to beat my opponent with all the skill I have learned. However I am not very good at being patient; this is the thing I have been working on for four years. I try to calm myself when I fight, which helps me to make better decisions. In the training camp for the Games, my sensei gave me a lot of training plans; these helped me to become more patient. I think patience was the most important reason for my success in the London Olympics.

Turning pressure to energy
I knew no Japanese athlete had won the 57kg category before.
Before the Olympics, I was first in the IJF ranking, so people thought I would surely win the gold medal, which put me under a lot of pressure. However, it was my dream to be in the Olympics, so pressure could’t stop me. But pressure did put me on edge.
I knew the only thing I could do is be myself. I relaxed myself with my friend, we went swimming and had fun together. This reduced the stress before the Games.

Encouragement from friends and teammates
In the matches for 48 and 52kg, both of my team mates lost. I felt so up sad when I was watching the result from TV. These are my best friends. But they still encouraged me after they lost, they said “You will be the first Japanese world Olympic Champion”, which further encouraged me.

In the first match, my passion pushed me to attack continuously for 5 minutes, so I won the first match. I did not have any special feelings in the second match. I fought against a fighter that I had beaten twice last year. But I didn’t feel confident at all. I nearly fell into her trap, and once again being patient and claim saved me. Even I won 2 matches in a row, I still had to be claim and couldn’t celebrate victory, because there were more matches to come.

Four years training condensed into one day
In the third match, I fought against the champion of last Olympics, from Italy. I tried to just be myself, and treat her like a normal opponent. It was very hard to use some techniques on her. I was playing like I normally play, but she had a better body condition then me, longer arm and leg. I played defensively, and waited for a chance, and the patience paid off again, I won the match. After winning this match, I felt so different from the first and second matches. The next match was to be even more critical, so I had to adjust my mood and prepare for the fight again. In the semi-final, I talked to myself, I must make it to the podium, so in this match, I fought with extra caution, I knew I couldn’t do anything wrong, so I waited and waited until extra time, and used 大外刈 (a judo technique) and won the match. I felt great, it was a long way since the 2010 Peking Games, all the hard work and training. For the final match, I emptied my mind: I will fight like I normally do.

Thanks from the Olympics
When I got the gold medal, I started to think of the last four years of training. The dream came true, seeing Japanese flag and hearing the anthem in the Olympic stadium. I was wondering if I was dreaming or not. When I came back to Japan, I felt so touched when everyone celebrated. I spent all my life in Judo, and hard work did pay off when I got the medal. I learned and grew from every injury. I had to thank my parents for all their support in these years; I think my parents deserve the medal for their support to me. Once again, I have to thank everyone. See you guys again in four years.

Translated by Tony S.Chung

Okinawa – 2015