KARAKAS Hedvig of Hungary is a national treasure and despite having retired from competition, we barely had chance to miss her before she joined the IJF team and even on a rare weekend away from the IJF World Judo Tour, we found her in the Gyor European Open cheering on members of her club. You can’t take this girl out of judo, or judo out of the girl it seems!
I’ve just returned from Paris and preparing to go to Baku on Tuesday, so now I’m here for my club so there is no weekend without judo! So really nothing has changed in my life! [she laughs]
As we know, the IJF World Judo Tour is packed full of events and as spectators we see a seamlessly orchestrated event time and time again, but there are a lot of hands at work behind the scenes to ensure first class perfection and it is no easy feat.
I started last year in the World Championships, I like it, everything is challenging and I like working with this team and it is a huge opportunity for me to stay close to judo. For now, I still don’t know who I am or who I want to be but I cannot stop working, I don’t like to do a job by half, so sometimes I kill myself a little but nothing I’m not used to. I have taken my passion for working hard and I feel like I can sacrifice certain things for a bigger goal.
This certainly isn’t an unusual feeling for athletes following retirement, but remaining within in the sport and having the support of individuals who have gone through the same thing is always useful, but how it is to transfer from a solo position to a big team? And what are the biggest differences being on and off the tatami?
Judo is an individual sport so you can only count on yourself on the mat and this is important, but you also need to find some balance when you’re out of competition. You need your sparring partners when you’re in preparation, training camps etc. So yes you need to be able to behave like a team player, and right now I’m enjoying working within a team environment. Maybe it’s because I don’t have experience in this field and I need to learn new skills from the people around me, I’m working with Louisa Galea the most and she teaches me pretty much everything. It’s definitely challenging and I try to do my best.
It’s interesting, I have my ups and downs, I miss this special feeling of challenge, the feeling when you’re fighting for yourself, whether you get the medal or not, because in real or normal life, there are no medals anymore!! [she laughs] This is the biggest difference, not having the reward.
Karakas isn’t off the tatami completely off course…
When I’m home I’m training in my club, maybe like assisting, but I like to do randori with the athletes, to push them to make mistakes and I think this is where you learn the most. Having a coach tell you is one thing, but I think when I’m showing them physically it helps and I’m forcing them to find solutions for these mistakes. So this is what I believe and try my best to help.
There are many accolades following Karakas’ name, and she started young so was collecting for quite some time, becoming Junior World Champion and senior World bronze medallist in 2009 in the -57kg category. An incredible collection of 27 medals in Grand Prix, Grand Slams and IJF Masters accompanies two continental championship bronze medals as well as a silver, though she managed to top the podium and become European Champion in 2020 in Prague, defeating the likes of double European Champion, Daria KURBONMAMADOVA neé MEZHETSKAIA and in the final, six-time European Champion, Telma MONTEIRO. Now, she has rightly earned the title of one of the top players, but she started somewhere, how important are European Cups and Opens to prepare for the IJF World Tour?
For me, when I was competing first at senior level I was 15 or 16 years old in a Hungarian Cup and I still remember, I finished 5th place and fighting -52kg, I lost to Petra Nareks with shime waza, she killed me! It was a huge experience and step forward for me so these tournaments are important.
Karakas will stay for the tournament to continue supporting her young team and will undoubtedly be a great motivation to them all.
Author: Thea Cowen