16 January 2024


Paris Grand Slam 2024


Okay, not so much a curse, but Italy’s Manuel LOMBARDO would very much like to compete in the Paris Grand Slam in a matter of weeks and is hoping he can break the trend of bad luck leading up to it. More on that in a little while. Training in Mittersill, Lombardo looked comfortable, easing back in to the new season which is kicking off very soon. It comes as no surprise that as we are looking toward to the Olympic Games in Paris, we must first reflect on Lombardo’s previous Olympic experience and how this cycle has been so far.

Mittersill with a view: Manuel Lombardo, David Garcia Torne, Sami Chouchi, Aaron Fara. © Gabi Juan

It was different, this is the first word that comes to my mind. I think a little bit easier because of the period before Tokyo. It was long and I started the Olympic cycle at 60kg [he laughs] then towards the end, in 2021, I took on so many kilograms, that extra year was really really hard. Now I can just focus on my judo which is such a good feeling, and when I lose, it isn’t at all the same. When you’re cutting 15kg before and go out first round [the wide eyes and deep breath say it all], so yes it is so much better now, a little easier but only the Olympic Games can have the final words. 

Within this category, the margin for difference in ranking points is so small, and really demonstrates the intensely high level throughout this middleweight category of -73kg, and usually makes it near impossible to predict the end result when all athletes are on top form.

You can see on the Olympic ranking list, exactly what you said, when you look at the difference of qualification points it is crazy, but if there is one I learned in Tokyo, ranking doesn’t matter. I was first and didn’t take a medal! So really I just focus on doing my best judo and being in shape in Paris. 

As Lombardo stated, with some acceptance three years on, he didn’t step on the podium in the Tokyo Olympic Games, despite his lofty ranking position. With that position comes pressure, and mainly from within, so how does a high performance Olympian, deal with loss on the world stage?

After Tokyo it was really difficult to go back to train, I had really bad moments and didn’t do judo for a month, my coach asked me to stay away so I was in the swimming pool, wrestling, bjj, everything but no judo!

Tokyo Olympic Games © Gabi Juan

Following his hiatus from the sport, he looked to compete in the Paris Grand Slam, but unfortunately the aftermath of covid wasn’t great for Lombardo and his recovery was impeded. Then back in the -73kg category, there was the ‘three musketeers dilemma’. There are so many personal obstacles to tackle as an athlete, then national concurrence is thrown in the mix, but not only that, there are friendships involved. Now all are aware, this is not a vendetta against one another, they’re all here for the same reason and know the work and effort it takes to achieve this status and essentially, the golden ticket to the Olympics, but how does one manage that on top of everything else?

I had Fabio Basile and Giovanni Esposito, my two team mates and it was difficult as well because they are my friends. Luckily now it’s a bit easier, I was focussed on judo but I was also trusting in the coaches of the national team because it is difficult when your team mates are also your opponents. There was also a bad moment for me because all three, we had grand slams before the European championships in 2022 and I won a medal in the Antalya Grand Slam and then I didn’t fight in the Europeans, but I was the only one with the medal. So this was difficult to process for me. There it only the two of us now of course so it’s a little easier.

Antalya seems to be a great place for the Italian athlete, given both his silver medal result in 2022 which he bested last year to take the top place on the podium.

So back to the Paris curse, this was referring to the infamous Grand Slam event of course, the 50th edition will take place this year between the 2nd and 4th of February in the grand Bercy, so why is Lombardo so keen to be victorious here?

Last year I broke my toe in Japan two weeks before, the year before, I had troubles with covid, the years before, there was the pandemic and in 2021, I broke my foot. All of these things happened two weeks before so now I am hoping it will not happen to me this year! It’s funny, every year I enter to fight in Paris, I have a problem. So I really hope that in the next three weeks nothing will happen and I get to fight in the grand slam. Please, let me fight in Paris!



Author: Thea Cowen