22 February 2024



Mihael ZGANK kicked off this year with a double boom, winning first the Grand Prix in Portugal before claiming victory at one of the most, if not THE most prestigious IJF World Tour event, the Paris Grand Slam. This capped him to be amongst the top four of the Olympic ranking list. Mihael’s journey in the world of judo began at a young age. 

I started judo when I was 7 years old at my primary school. I saw few of my friends and my cousin doing it, so I wanted to try as well.

At the beginning, Mihael was accompanied by her older sister, Barbara, too as they both became familiar with the sensation of the tatami. For five years, football was also on the cards for him, but the gentle way won. Further on, Mihael showed a natural aptitude for the sport and quickly rose through the ranks. For him, role models with the likes of Urska Zolnir upped his passion for judo and drove him to train relentlessly, honing his skills and perfecting his techniques. 

Urska was my role model back then, she still is now. She was the reason I got into professional judo. She just got her first Olympic medal in Athens when I started judo.

Back row: Adrian Gomboc and Mihael Zgank.
Front row: Urska Zolnir and Rok Draksic. © Mihael Zgank

Mihael had the privilege to share the mat with his idol, Urska Zolnir, on the daily basis. One might wonder, what is a judoka who representing Türkiye doing in Slovenia? Well, Mihael is Slovenian and won numerous titles under his birth country, including a world silver medal in 2017, where losing the final, incidentally, remains his worst nightmare. Shortly after, he switched to Türkiye as Mikail Ozerler and won the European Games in Minsk in 2019. Ozeler also took gold on his new home soil when succeeding at the Grand Prix Antalya 2019. Later he switched back to Zgank but 2019 delivered more;

Winning the European Championship in 2019 is the most memorable moment so far because I felt this result was a product of my self-development.

Irrelevant to the name on his back, his performances never fail to impress. He is closest in his team to his coach Irakli Uznadze and fellow teammate, Bilal Ciloglu. Since becoming a key member of the Turkish judo team, Mihael managed to visit home every few months, depending on his training and competition regime. Judo is a big family; therefore, relocating was easy. 

Honestly, moving was not such a big difference because I feel athletes and especially judo world has similar values. 

Besides football, Mihael gave another two possibilities would the pyjama game not have been at his likings: psychology or maybe real-estate. Thought he is grateful for the path he is on; he is forever grateful of how judo saved his from having a mediocre life. Mihael credits judo to be a sport that challenges you daily and contempt the ups and downs, his motivation remains until the job is not finished. What else?

I am passionate for learning, growth, and spirituality. I have big dreams, but I would like to keep those for myself. What I want to achieve is leave an impact on the world, lead with example, and help humanity. At the end of the day, I want to sleep with a clear mind, be happy and create a great family.

Over the years, Mihael has achieved numerous accolades and titles in judo competitions, including a 5th place at the last summer games. At every event, as part of his ritual, he takes a cold shower after his breakfast. Whirling towards Paris 2024, the city of love conveyed success for him this year already. The 2023 European bronze medallist admits lingering with thoughts about the Olympics but specifies them to be strictly motivational. With all that in mind, remarkably, the first word pops into his mind when thinking of Paris Olympics;

The Eiffel Tower

Mihael’s nickname is Rhino which is his spirit animal. Speaking of which the question was asked if he is following any specific spiritual groups for which he responded,

I don’t follow any spirituality particularly, but I do believe in a higher power.

Off the mat activities includes reading a book, cycling, crossword puzzles, golf, and watches. What will it be in 5-10 years’ time? 

Probably still near the judo tatami, I really can’t imagine my world without judo.

Beyond his achievements in competitions, Mihael is also known for his sportsmanship and humility. He embodies the values of respect, discipline, and perseverance that are at the fundamental of judo. His positive attitude and willingness to help and inspire others have made him a role model for aspiring judoka around the world. Until later, all the best Rhino!

Mihael Zgank and coach, Irakli Uznadze. © IJF


Weight category -90kg 
Height184 cm
HometownMigojnice (small village in Celje)
Favourite techniqueOsoto-gari
Study / Qualifications Master of Education and Sport
Biggest lesson learned so farPatience is the key.
MottoAlways go for the harder choice.
DishSpaghetti Carbonara – when made right
BeveragesWine, green tea and water
Animal Rhino
BookJoseph Murphy – The power of your subconscious mind
Day of the week Thursday
Trait Growth mindset
Top 5 bucket list Marathon
Pilot an airplane
Route 66
Swim the Bosporus
Own a company

Author: Szandra Szogedi