26 April 2024


European Judo Championships Seniors Zagreb 2024


Most of the continental championships are taking place this week and with that qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games is also a constant talking point. However, on the opening day of the European Judo Championships Seniors Zagreb 2024 we have also witnessed significant personal developments.

The -66kg category had the total of 29 entries and according to previous results, if we were to make a prediction of the podium line-up, Pongracz Bence would have less likely to be amongst. The 24-year-old Hungarian judoka fast contradicted.

Actually, the target was to be in the top 5 and I tell you why. During past events, I constantly find myself with a tough draw where none of the contests ended with me being thrown out of the arena but rather the opposite, they mostly went into golden score, narrowly missing out. This frustrated me and when the draw came out here in Zagreb, I knew I have an opportunity to make the most of it and head to the final block. 

There is more to Pongracz’s story as he once ended his career already during the most recent pandemic to now return and become a senior European bronze medallist. Would you care to explain?

So, just before the pandemic I changed club. At the time, with the national team, we continued to train under special circumstances without knowing when we will have the chance to compete again. Prior, I haven’t had any big results, only a few European cup medals, so I haven’t had those extras to keep me motivated. I started coaching and thinking of building my life outside of high-performance judo. Once the pandemic eased up, I still did a few events with no pressure on, nor with any expectations. These events made me start thinking about coming back to leave no stone unturned. 

What of the phone call? 

Yes, so by the time I thought of coming back, the system in Hungary had changed. We had a new high-performance director and there were restrictions put in place as well as a new roadmap on how to get into the national team so I called our men’s team head coach, Ungvari Miklos who explained everything around the new set up and well I can say that phone call is when we decided to give it a go with high-performance judo again.

What was your goal since returning to the national team?

Well, if you asked me this 48hrs ago the answer might have been different [he laughs]. Honestly, when I returned, I just wanted to see how far I can go and to see if I can sharpen up to mix with the elite at Grand Prix and Grand Slam level. I wanted to see where my limits are. That extended yesterday and asking me this question today I will say it is now the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. 

Prior to his newly collected senior European bronze medal, Pongracz’s best results were established last year with two silver medals from various European Opens. The last international medal for Hungary in the -66kg category was at the London 2012 Olympic Games where Ungvari Miklos, who coached Pongracz onto the European rostrum, won silver. In fact, it was also Ungvari who won the last senior European medal for Hungary in this weight category (Istanbul 2011). Paris will be over before we know it, is Pongracz going to be a re-creation of Ungvari? We shall see…

Author: Szandra Szogedi