Judo Fanatics Exclusive Interview With Andrea Stojadinov
At the 2020 Hungary Grand Slam, this youngster won a bronze medal, a milestone for this Serbian player who is still technically a junior competitor.
Q: How prepared were you for this competition?
A: Despite the pandemic, I didn’t really take a break. I was training all the time even when it was not possible to train at the dojo, due to a lockdown. I would work with my strength coach Goran Popović. And I would work on technical training with my brother, who is also a judoka. We’ve been allowed to do judo since the middle of August though. So, it was then that I could start doing randoris again at my club, Red Star.
Q: Was Budapest your first return to competition?
A: No, earlier this month, I took part in the Senior European Cup in Dubrovnik. That was a small competition. In my category there was only one other player, a girl from Kosovo, so we ended up having three round-robin matches. I just wanted to use Dubrovnik as a kind of a test, to see how it felt to get back into competition. So, in that regard it was very useful.
Q: How did it feel when it was confirmed that Budapest was on?
A: It was a kind of relief, actually. Initially, when my country first went into lock-down, we thought maybe competitions would resume in May or June. Then we heard it wouldn’t be until September that competitions would start again. September came and went, and still no competitions. So, it was very difficult because we couldn’t plan for me to peak for competitions. But of course, I’m not the only one to have had to go through this. Everybody did. So, yeah, I was very glad when it was confirmed that Budapest would happen in October.
Q: Were you a bit concerned about traveling to Budapest given that the virus is surging throughout Europe, Budapest included?
A: I’m a young person, so honestly, I wasn't that worried about myself. But I was more worried about my family back home. That said, I was not overly concerned about competing in Budapest because a lot of precautions were taken. I had four PCR tests within seven days, as did the other competitors. While in Budapest, we were kind of quarantined in the hotel. The only place we could go to was the sports hall. We wore masks all the time except during matches, and we had our temperatures checked throughout the day. Ironically, I felt safer in Budapest than here at home because I move around a lot more here.
Q: Did you get to meet any athletes from other countries?
A: Not a lot except maybe in the dining hall, during weigh-in and, of course, in the sports hall. There wasn’t a lot of mingling as we were advised to maintain some distancing. But, of course, when you bump into someone you know, you would exchange a few words. But that’s pretty much it.
Q: There were no spectators in the stands. Did that feel weird?
A: Well, the general public was not allowed to watch the competition but the competitors were allowed to watch matches, so you could hear a little bit of cheering from the stands. My teammates were among the loudest people in the hall so I could hear them cheering for me! In any case, when I’m competing, I’m really focus on the fight so it doesn’t really matter if there’s a big crowd cheering or not.
Q: You are a capable thrower but you won two of your matches with impressive newaza: one armlock and one sankaku. Are you becoming something of a newaza specialist?
A: Ha… ha… I wish! Actually, newaza was one aspect of my judo that was a bit weak. However, during the past eight months I’ve been working hard on improving my groundwork. I think most of my opponents think of me as a thrower, rather than a grappler, so perhaps that gave me the chance to surprise them on the ground. I’m happy that I was able to win two matches using two different newaza techniques but I’m far from being a newaza specialist.
Q: How did it feel fighting Olympic Champion Paula Pareto in the semifinal? Were you nervous?
A: Well, I get nervous before every match! But actually, fighting Pareto was not as nerve-wracking as my fighting my first match. That’s when I’m most nervous, regardless of who it is. When it came time to fight Pareto, it was the semifinal match already, and I had already fought and won three matches leading up to it. So, I was very warmed up mentally. Facing an Olympic champion is great opportunity to test myself. After that match I felt that getting an Olympic medal is not something beyond my reach. I lost to Pareto but I lasted the whole match with her and lost by waza-ari literally in the last 10 seconds. I still have a long way to go but that match told me that I am on the right path towards achieving my dreams.
Q: For your bronze medal match, you were up against France’s rising star Shirine Boukli. You had lost to her twice before but this time, you beat her soundly with two different throws. What do you think made the difference?
A: The last time I fought Boukli was more than a year ago, at the European Junior Championships in Vaantaa. That was a tough match that went into Golden Score. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played that match over and over again in my head. I knew what it would be like facing Boukli, who is a fierce grip-fighter. But I was confident in my throwing abilities and believed I could throw her. I was very motivated to win. Getting a bronze medal in a Grand Slam would be a huge result for me and I didn’t want to end up in 5th place, not after all the good fights I had earlier in the day. I told myself, it’s just one more fight. So, I was able to sum up all my energy and gave it my all.
Q: What does the bronze medal win mean to you?
A: I feel like a big burden is off my back right now. I had two 7th place finishes at Grand Prix competitions and I’d never made it to the final block before, so this was an achievement, definitely. In the next two weeks I will take part in two European competitions, one for juniors and one for under-23’s. Having won this medal, I feel more confident going into those competitions.
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