ROAD TO RIO - LUDWIG PAISCHER: AUT2016-BR2016

“I wanted to start judo at the age of three but they told me that I am too tiny. Until the age of six, I asked my mum every day if I am big enough to begin.”

A very hectic schedule passed by in the last few weeks for our elite athletes as they were competing back to back. In between tournaments, they would spend their weekdays battling it out in different training camps at different locations. There was no difference for triple Olympian, Ludwig PAISCHER who is aiming to finish his career high, but most importantly blended with joyful memories.

Paischer was born, lives and trains in Salzburg. The Austrian judoka got involved with judo via his mother, who was also a judoka. “I wanted to start judo at the age of three but they told me that I am too tiny. Until the age of six, I asked my mum every day if I am big enough to begin”, recalls double World medalist, Paischer.

For a little while, Judo was an option for the 11 times national champion Austrian judo ace, until life decided otherwise: “When I was young I also played football up to the age of 11 and than my mum told me that I have to decide because it was judo training directly after football training like four times a week and I also liked to play tennis too. Meanwhile, I also had to make a choice, whether I will do economic or high performance school. I took the option of the high performance school and than step by step everything started to fall into place.” The next conclusion for Paischer came along in Moscow 1998 right after a tournament which at the time used to be called the World Youth Games (WYG): “I competed at the WYG in 1998 in Moscow and I lost the semi-final by hantai (flag decision) against a Brazilian opponent. At the end, I took bronze but the reason this tournament was a positive breaking point for me is because before this tournament I used to fight against European opponents only so this medal made me realised that I could fight against others worldwide." 

The Road to Rio will not be Paischer’s first experience. In fact, he is considered to be one of the very few judo players who can call themselves four times Olympians. What adds up to this beauty is that amongst his Olympic journeys, the 34 years old judoka has won silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. However, before jumping ahead of all, there is one interesting fact which connects the two Olympics. At both occasion, Paischer suffered a defeat against the same opponent, CHOI Min-Ho (KOR), with the difference being that in Beijing it was during the final of the 2008 Summer Games. “I beat him in Paris in 2008 but the two most important fights he won against me”, said Paischer. Athens to Beijing…”To be honest, leading up to Athens, I never thought of losing at all. I was flying. But in Judo, you have to face lows not only highs and this helped me a lot to understand we have to work even harder. This situation also made me stronger as a person. The whole experience in Athens helped me towards Beijing and also I took two world medals [2005,2007] in-between the two Olympics. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change anything for Athens and I believe with a better draw perhaps I could have been on the podium.”

(Photo: GEPA picture/Martin Hoermandinger) It is often said that athletes die twice, which of the first is when they are to finish their career and settle with a thought of retirement. For athletes who dedicated their lives to their chosen sport, a chapter closes right at the moment when they opt to leave. Ludwig Paischer has almost closed that chapter four years ago, however, life has chosen for him to continue with another Olympic episode. Until today, he considers it as the toughest situation he ever had to face throughout his career. “The London Olympics was easier in a sense that I already had a medal. I stayed focus but I had less pressure. I was in a good shape but perhaps I was missing a bit more of my self confidence. To be honest, London was supposed to be my last Olympics. In my mind, it was my last Olympics... However, I was aiming to finish my carrier with a medal at a high level. In 2013, I finished fifth at the Europeans so I still wasn’t ready to retire with full satisfaction. My next year, 2014, was a terrible year so of course I moved onto 2015 and that’s the time I thought one more year will not make a difference so I decided to go ahead with the Rio qualification and to make sure I enjoy the last year of my world judo journey as an Olympic athlete. At the end, even if I don’t make a medal or anything, I can look into the mirror and tell myself I have done everything I could possibly do… No doubt, the decision making process after London was the hardest part, especially that during that time I was finishing my university studies as well, because at the back of my mind, I knew that even if I go to Rio, I have to have a job after that. This was definitely a hard period”, explained double European Champion [2004,2008], Paischer. 

After such a hard time of the decision making process and almost 30 years spent on the tatami, the question had to be asked. What does Judo means to him? “Judo is my life; it is the biggest part of my life. Years and years ago, I quickly figured that I am terrible in team sports. In Judo, it is you alone on the tatami and it is you who wins or loses but what is important I think is that each time, whether you win or lose, you stay within your own personality. For this and for many other parts, we need a respectable level of mental toughness...or for instance, when you are nervous at the tournament, it is a special feeling, and I like this a lot. Judo is indeed a fighting sport but you have rules and respect. All in all, Judo is a big family and this is the most important part of it. We fight on the tatami but after that we stay together, we talk together and we laugh together."  

And now fully onto 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The journey of the Olympic Year has started off quiet well and promising for Lupo, which is the name he would commonly be called within the judo family. First of all, Lupo finished 7th at the very prestigious Paris Grand Slam not knowing that a week later he will blow away the audience at the Sportshalle Oberwart, where one of the 2016 Men European Judo Open took place. Besides the golden moment, 100 points and the national anthem, there is another interesting story connects to Lupo’s career. Whilst recalling that ecstatic weekend, Paischer explains: “I love to fight at home. To be honest, I wasn’t in my best shape but I knew it was my last time to fight in Oberwart and in fact front of the home crowd. Many people thought I was too old to be able to win it. During the first fight I felt it is going to be difficult ,but at the end, I managed. For me it is a very special moment because my first time to win a slightly bigger international medal was also in Austria [2001 World Cup Leonding] and now 15 years later I managed to win gold again. It is like a portray of the beginning of my journey and the end of my journey.” This year could bring additional victory for Lupo as his record shows he is likely to take gold at the Europeans during Olympic Years. In regards to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Lupo concluded: “For now, it is all about the Europeans as yet. Of course, Rio is the ultimate target but if you only thinking of Rio you forget to live through and enjoy the journey. The way I see it is that I continue to work hard and I don’t think of going towards Rio but the opposite, Rio should come to me as long as my hard work pays off.”


Are you fascinated to see your judo heroes? Ludwig Paischer is one of your role-models? Come along to the JUDO FESTIVAL in Porec, Croatia next year and you will have the opportunity not only to meet with many of our world class judoka but also to train with them whilst spending your best holiday time ever. Why not to pile it up all in one? For more information, please visit www.judofestival.com 

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