The first region to celebrate the New Year is Kiritimati in Oceania. So right about now, they have entered into 2024. Kiritimati is 13 hours ahead of Paris, the city which will host the XXXIII Olympiad. In a matter of half-a-day, Europe will wake into THE Olympic year. This will be it, the final race is on and double World Champion, Barbara MATIC is ready to manifest her victory.
Gold medallist, Olympic Champion.
The first words pop into to Barbara’s mind when thinking of Paris 2024. However, she understands, there is a lot to be done before, so she seeks to focus on the journey, for now. What does it take to become Olympic champion though?
I don’t know yet, but I hope I will find out [she laughs], but if you have come to the Olympic Games, you must have put in a lot of effort and work already so I think that the little things decide that day, how you wake up and how you feel.
When did it all begin?
I started practicing judo when I was less than 7 years old, right at the time when I started elementary school. My coaches came into the school to do a judo presentation and I liked it and that’s how I started training. Until today, I train at the same club, JC Pujanke in Split, and I am coached by the same coach, Vladimir Preradović. Now that is more than 20 years of joint work in our atomic shelter, which we adapted to look like a judo hall.
Their record shows that they work well hand in hand. Two Olympic Games, four senior European and 24 IJF World Tour medals. The four-times World Champion, Barbara, won two at senior stage and two amongst the juniors [2013, 2014]. The family holds onto another junior world title as sibling, Brigita won in 2015. Her sister since became a mom, nevertheless, Barbara is on the road for the two of them. Despite her assertive appearance, Barbara disclosed having a role model of her own.
Janica Kostelić, a Croatian skier, firstly because of the incredible results and medals she won from a small country that doesn’t have much snow, and secondly because we all started watching skiing and fell in love with it because of her, so I would like people to start watching judo because of me as well.
The transition from elementary school judo to elite level, as Barbara explains, was natural, no pressure from her parents or such.
None of them practiced judo nor did they even know what judo was until I started training. My parents were happy that I started training and they always supported me in everything and were my big support, both for me and my sister then. Everything else was my desire, love, effort and persistence.
On her extraordinary journey, as with everything, there were many ups and downs. The hardest suffer was evidently the loss of the bronze medal contest at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Missing an opportunity to win a medal at the Olympics is a great loss for everyone, so it was for me. My emotions were running high, but as a professional, it did not take me a long time to overcome that moment. I took some rest where I had time to think about everything and I told myself that, from then on, everything I work for would be to get that medal in the future.
Despite losses and tears, giving up never even crossed her mind. On the bright side, until she became senior world gold medallist, Barbara’s sweetest memory was her junior world championships victory in Ljubljana 2013.
After winning the gold, I went to cheer the whole team up to the stands, but my sister literally pulled me up to the stands, even though they were raised, to hug me and congratulate me. In addition, she was 3rd there at junior Worlds even she was still a cadet, and we girls won bronze as a team. Very nice memories from that competition.
What of the senior titles?
The first time it was shock, surprise and happiness. The second time I felt proud, joy and thankfulness.
Did it change your life?
I do not know. I think it didn’t change my life that much. I believe that I am not yet aware of how big that ‘thing’ is and that I will only understand it after judo when I can look back on my career.
Barbara admits to being unsure what else she would be doing if it was not judo. She played with the idea of athletics, specifically heptathlon or probably would have been involved in professional development. Whilst her passions remains solely in judo, of recent, she started reading books as much as possible. A real time out includes sunshine and a cup of coffee by the sea in her home town. On her free time, Barbara gives lessons to children in mathematics and physics. Is that the route you wish to follow after your elite career?
I haven’t decided what I really want to do after Judo. I would like to stay in judo in some way, that’s for sure, but I don’t think as a coach. At least not during that time, maybe later. By then I would certainly like to have my own little family and a job that I love and enjoy.
Don’t try and call her during an event because one of Barbara’s routine during a tournament is putting her phone into flight mode to avoid distraction whilst using her device to listen to different beats. Speaking of competitions, whilst she is the most successful Croatian judoka, she is not alone. After years of dominating on home soil and internationally, the country, as well as Barbara, found themselves in a misty situation. Team-mate, Lara CVJETKO, stormed into the mix.
Whilst Barbara is a step ahead of Lara on the world ranking, she is also a step behind on the Olympic ranking. It is commonly known that you and Lara are friends, but since she is on your radar, have you had to change anything around your mental attitude to events or to your overall approach towards Paris 2024?
Overall, I consider Lara a positive competition and it gives me additional motivation to work harder, but I have a set goal and I want to be focused on my path to achieve that goal.
Now, Barbara has many individualities and with judo not being a beauty but rather a beast sport, one of her unique traits is to be able to remain elegant, feminine and classy. Moreover, she is pure joy and happiness even in the middle of a heavy training camp. How do you manage?
Even though you’ll mostly see me in sweats and sportswear in general, I try to do my best to be classy and girly. I think that it is important for a woman to cherish her feminine side in this kind of sport.
I would consider myself a positive and cheerful person which I am trying to manifest on a daily basis. I love what I do and I want to enjoy that. There will always be hard moments, but my focus is on the happy ones.
There is a lot of physical work to be done as an elite judoka, the mind matters too if not the most. With all the above mentioned challenges, a healthy mindset is key. Do you train your mind at all?
When covid hit, that pause from competitions helped me. I started working with a sport psychologist, something that I would highly recommend to everyone. I learned how to switch my focus on important things, whether it’s during practice or professional competitions. Also, I learned the ways of dealing with stressful situations which I try to remind myself of every day.
Barbara Matic is a living legend of Croatia, winning ‘athlete of the year’ in the country on more than one occasion. An achievement which in not to be described as small at all. How do you feel about these awards?
Croatia is a small country but it has a lot of great athletes. I felt so proud and grateful for being the athlete of the year. That motivates me to work harder and better to achieve a long term goal.
Barbara’s journey in judo is a testament to the power of passion, hard work, and relentless determination. Her exceptional skills, combined with her unwavering sportsmanship and commitment to the principles of judo, have solidified her place as a true superstar in the world of judo. As she continues to dominate the mat and inspire future generations, Barbara’s legacy in judo will undoubtedly endure, leaving an indelible mark on the sport she loves.
FAN FACT SHEET
|Study / Qualifications
|Master degree in Electrical Engineering
|Biggest lesson learned so far
|“You are stronger than you think!”
|“Noting is impossible!”
|Pizza and sarme (croatian dish)
|Water and coca cola zero
|Now I am in love with olive green and dark red
|Depends on the mood
|Don’t have it
|Day of the week (why?)
|Maybe Sunday because most often I don’t have training on Sundays and I have free time to hang out with friends and family and do some things for myself that I didn’t do during the week.
|Trait (favourite qualities about yourself)
Always smiling 🙂
|Top 5 bucket list
|Christmas holidays in New York
Start my own business
Big family house
The EJU Media Team visited Barbara at her home town back in March 2023 under the project called ‘Meet the Champions’.
Author: Szandra Szogedi