5 April 2023


Antalya Grand Slam 2023


Aaron FARA, the day after his Grand Slam premiere victory in Antalya. The relief is written all over the face of the Austrian judoka. The world champion-in-training is now no.22 in the world rankings and in the Olympic rankings, in direct qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. In 2023, he has delivered twice at Grand Slam level: silver in Tashkent, gold in Antalya. He has won nine of his last 10 fights with ippon, most of them after a few seconds, totalling less than five minutes in Türkiye.
The 25-year-old Lower Austrian has become noticeably calmer and has a much more structured approach to his contests. After waking up, he takes ‘time for silence’ and reads the Bible, the (Free Evangelical) faith has become the most important companion. After a year that really had it all, nothing went right on the World Tour. It was a sad result for Tara concluding 2022: six wins in 23 contests. At home with the Faras, one piece of bad news followed the other. Mum, Alexandra and sister, Anna-Maria had to endure delicate operations and for months there was uncertainty about their chances of recovery.

Those were very hard months for my dad and me.

2023 then – in terms of Judo – didn’t start as desired either.

After the early elimination in Almada, I was at the end. I wanted to quit, I was already thinking about going abroad and just looking for a job. But I was done with judo! I know I’ve said this many times: this is my last tournament. But before the Grand Slam in Tashkent, I meant it 100 per cent. In four years, only two countable results, and not at the highest level. That’s simply too little, it doesn’t make sense any more. All the defeats have done me in.

Now he sits in Antalya’s Mirage Park Hotel, with the gold medal in hand, and can’t believe his luck. Mirage stands for fatamorgana or fallacy. However Aaron Fara is wide awake and has arrived in reality. During the camp this week he will reel off many randori, but for now he can enjoy his win.

4:17 minutes of contest time in five rounds. Five wins with ippon, including against world number five Shady ELNAHAS (CAN). Your semi final lasted 10 seconds, the final 27 seconds. Was it a perfect day?

I often thought to myself: I hope Tashkent, the silver medal, was not a one-day wonder. But on competition day I was quite relaxed. Everything just came together for me. I did my fighting style 100 per cent. The faster I can decide a fight, the better. I am not someone who wants to win with waza-ari or hansoku-make. Only the quarter final against Shady lasted longer. I was in front with waza-ari, had him in a hold, but he was able to break away. That completely threw me off my game. I got gasps, my battery was empty, my hands felt like concrete. But even in those seconds I wasn’t really in danger of losing that fight. That makes me proud, Shady is a big shot.

How was this turnaround possible – coming close to retirement and then becoming Grand Slam winner, two-time medallist – all within a few weeks?

The last year, with all the family challenges, has shaped me as a human being. Religion, i.e. the Free Evangelical Congregation, determines my life away from judo. I’m working on my character, have become calmer, more attentive, probably also more understanding. In terms of sport: I train more diversely and harder, recently also boxing. I’m stronger than ever, not only mentally, but certainly also physically. And a rule change has also helped me: You are now allowed to release the (opponent’s) grip with both hands again. That certainly suits me.

Who helped you the most to put this turn-around into practice?

Apart from my mum, Yvonne (SNIR BÖNISCH) was probably the only one who still believed in me and also kept telling me that. I have to say that the way our coaching team has developed over the last two years is also something to be proud of internationally – with Yvonne as head coach, Robert KRAWCZYK, technical coach Hitoshi KUBO and not forgetting under-21 coach Felipe KITADAI – we have absolutely top people. I rely 100 per cent on their guidance.

How do you feel about going to the World Championships in Doha at the beginning of May?

I remain a realist. But of course I will not change my attacking judo. For me, it’s uncharted territory to go to a World Championship with such a positive feeling and so much confidence.

For Aaron Fara it is the fifth Senior World Championship participation. He is still waiting for his first top seven result.

Photo-Copyright: IJF


Author: EJU Media