6 February 2024


Paris Grand Slam 2024


There are many things variables for judoka, illness, injuries, weight control, mental health, correct preparation, but what if you’ve done everything right and it all goes wrong? 

Chelsie GILES of Great Britain won an Olympic bronze medal in the Tokyo Games and has been her greatest achievement, adding to the nations tally of accomplishments for that Olympiad, but it almost didn’t happen. 

The week we were meant to be travelling, we had to have a test 72 hours beforehand and I was getting a call from the doctor and I just knew something was wrong. It was a positive test but they thought it was probably a false positive and told me that they were going to do everything they could to get me on the flight. At this point I was a mess and didn’t think I was going to compete in the Games. I was just so overwhelmed, after all this build up and preparation.

Chelsie GILES (GBR) prepped and ready… © Gabi Juan

Fortunately for Giles, her follow up test was negative setting the wheels in motion again, but then another roadblock. A team mate tested positive and as they’d been in contact, it was back to square one. Again, a second negative test freed the team and now it was just a case of getting to the airport and starting that journey to Tokyo. 

I didn’t go with the rest of the team, but we were taken to the airport and told we’d be staying in the training partner hotel but that we were going and that’s all that mattered. I think that was the moment that it all changed for me, I went from being nervous to excited. It was a slight relief just knowing, but until I was on the plane I was worried because at each stage there was another test and I was thinking what if I get another positive, but once I was there I could relax and I could enjoy the whole experience. 

After the stress of making it to Tokyo, the experience was flipped on its head for Giles,

On competition day I just felt like, I’ve been given this chance now, and I was just enjoying the day. On the way out to fights, me and Jamie [Johnson] were even laughing and I remember thinking my dad was at home watching and he was more nervous than I am right now, I felt absolutely fine! After getting out there it was good. I think because we had done a lot of competitions under the Covid rules, it wasn’t such a strange experience, we were used to it and it helped us a lot actually. It went very smoothly, it was a tough day but I was very happy. 

Looking back now, a short time after the pandemic, rules and restrictions are no longer there and gone are the days of pre travel, pre hotel entry and pre competition tests for the athletes and delegations but this simple test was what killed Olympic dreams and was almost a nightmare for Giles. 

If you’d have told me a year before the Games were meant to be scheduled, that my place there would be at risk because of this test I’d never have believed a word of it. I think it was even worse for me because I had no symptoms at the time, I’d had Covid a few months before and they said it can still show up in tests, so that was even more frustrating! I was hearing about it happening to other athletes and I couldn’t believe it was suddenly happening to me. Honestly I was just happy to be getting past it. 

The whole period was tough for athlete preparation with some teams and sports going in to lockdown together, having no contact with families for months on end to prevent any contamination, so how did it look for Giles?

My last bit of training was done on a rowing machine in my flat, I remember Wayne [Lakin] messaging me telling me to train like I was still going regardless of this positive test. British Judo and Team GB were really good, trying everything they could to make sure I would get out there and stayed so positive, but I was not in this mindset, I was almost just accepting it. So yeah they pushed me to continue because of course if I still ended up going I needed to be ready. 

-52kg Front Runner Giles took the European title in 2022. © Gabi Juan

How does Giles feel this experience changed her and prepared her for the upcoming Games in Paris? 

I think it helped in terms of learning how to overcome obstacles, there is always something. That was a big one though, stopping me achieving my dream. It’s all about finding a solution and having a good team around you to support you, I’m so grateful for everyone that helped me get through that period. Now it’s Paris! Having that experience in Tokyo is making this one even more exciting. 

After winning a tremendous silver medal in the Paris Grand Slam, Giles is now continuing with some gruelling preparation on the Paris Training Camp which has a whole host of top athletes from the IJF World Tour, all in the same boat counting down the days to the Olympic Games in France’s capital.


Author: Thea Cowen