19 April 2024



Kim Polling. For judo fans around the world, we know her as the fierce Dutch athlete who has accolades in their droves; four-time European Champion, four-time Masters winner, World medallist, and has been a stellar part of the Netherlands Judo Team for many years. Today however, she sports new colours, true to her identity and fitting with her life, the present and the future. It may have come as a surprise to some, so what’s the story? 

In 2016 I moved to Italy and was also talking with Italian Judo and military groups, because in Italy when you’re competing at a high level you enter a military group, so as long as you’re an athlete that’s you’re job. So this is when I moved in with Andrea [Regis], and at the time I thought, you know I liked him a lot [she laughs] but you never know, when you move in with someone, you get to know them really well! I was not speaking Italian at all, I was 100% Dutch, I wasn’t ready to fight for Italy and I was still feeling very good with the Netherlands and they allowed me to live and train in Italy whilst still competing for them. 

Eight years on, we most recently saw Kim competing in her orange colours in the Antalya Grand Slam, so when a cryptic instagram post came from her recently, many were waiting in anticipation to see what her next move would be, would she be transferring to Team Italy? 

I decided to stay there and I don’t regret this at all and I made the right decision at the time. Now though, Andrea and I have a baby, almost two years old now, and my life is in Italy. So especially after the birth of my daughter, fighting for Italy made more sense but now there was a problem with my age. Not so much for Italian Judo but to enter the military group, as there is an age limit for entry and then I wouldn’t be receiving a salary. It has never been an option because I needed the financial security, but then in January of this year, the age for the military went up! This meant that there is now a possibility I can enter, and this changed everything. 

There is also something else, in the Netherlands you cannot have dual nationality unless I was to take up the nationality of my ‘husband’, so this year Andrea and I decided to move up our wedding and hasten the nuptials! Now the approval came from the IJF and it is just amazing, we did it, I feel like I’m living a dream, we have our baby, we are married and now I’m Italian like my family. Also, I just feel Italian, since my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter, I feel more Italian than Dutch, my life and everything is in Italy so it really means a lot to me. 

My ties to the Netherlands are strong, but they have become less and less, I will always be Dutch and always have my past, yes I have friends and family but my present and future are in Italy. 

Polling won the 2021 Doha Masters. © Gabi Juan

Before Tokyo, there was a very public and clear dispute going on in the Netherlands in regards to qualification, and following this, Kim pursued her dream of starting a family,

After Tokyo I decided to have a baby, and before Tokyo, I was in a big ‘fight’, they changed the rules of qualification and because of this not-so-nice period, it became more objective and was based more on world ranking and medals and was no longer subjective. As a result, I knew when I was pregnant, I would miss a part of the qualification period and having Sanne in the category with me, thinking she would perform the same as before, it was a challenge. I am so grateful for my coach Garmt Zijlstra, he really pulled me up after Tokyo, he helped me during pregnancy, made me come back to judo and he has been amazing. It was so difficult to be away from the Netherlands, I didn’t want to be far from my baby or for a long time, so coming back to my previous level just wasn’t going to work, it wasn’t anyones fault, just the way things were. This was the biggest struggle for me, we were limited with what we could do with such a great distance. 

Now, everything is different, there are no limitations, 

So before the military announcement in January, I wasn’t even thinking about the Olympics, Sanne was already there and my biggest goal was the World Championships and performing there. Even now I still feel like ‘woah’ now the Olympics is a possibility, I feel very proud of myself to be here after having my baby, that I could be qualifying for the Olympics! 

It really has been a tough year, and now I can have my coaches next to me on the tatami, actually seeing what I’m doing, and helping me, I am really convinced I can be at the level I was before I was pregnant. I am super motivated, and it’s so much more fun now to train. Due to where I am, I was training very much alone, living away from the Netherlands, but still I wasn’t for Italy so they were limited in how they could help me. Now I can train completely with them, like it should be for any athlete!

When asking about the mindset of a champion and what it means to be an Olympian, Kim laughs a little, 

Well… I can’t say that I really agree with the Olympics, that to participate is more important than to win, I’m not really of that motto! For me, the mentality, I’m not sure, maybe when I’m older and no longer in the sport I can give you a better answer, a more political answer, but right now, I can just say I want a medal!

On to the next one Kim! © Gabriel Juan

Photographs courtesy of FIJLKAM © Emanuele Di Feliciantonio

Author: Thea Cowen