8 February 2023


Sofia European Open 2023


Without a doubt, Ivelina ILIEVA has been the pillar of the Bulgarian women’s judo team for over a decade. However, for the past year, most of the team has been under a new leadership, which so far indicates, the back-up is finally on the way.

The takeover was agreed by former world bronze medallist of France, Alain SCHMITT, who was relished by the good atmosphere and warm people ever since his arrival. What has changed in the past 12 months? 

AS: Firstly, I wanted to build a team because it was disorganised. The idea was to make a family spirit and use that energy in the work every day. Now I think we got it and after that the judo work is not difficult, you need to work every day and improve the skills. They have big progress, and I am very happy for them. 

Before, the Bulgarian federation was not paying attention on women judo. Ivelina had her own personal coach and that was that. Now, we are focusing on building the women team, they are growing strong together, enjoying training and have a perspective for the future. When you have no aims it’s not easy.

Baku Grand Slam 2022, -57 kg, BRONZE BUL ILIEVA vs GBR NAIRNE (Photo: IJF Kulumbegashvili Tamara) © Szandra Szogedi

Reverting to Ilieva, who won bronze at the 2022 Baku Grand Slam, remains working with her personal coach for most of the time, yet, pleased to see that there are more women doing judo now. She reveals the reasons of the past 16 years of her solo journey. 

In my country, the women are scared. Our culture is different when it comes to women. We are a sporty nation but only at recreational level. As soon as there are no results they stop, which often happens early. The first two years of my senior years, I was without results at all, and these are the periods when they also stop judo. I had to be patient and work hard, but only a few can push through this. 

Travelling alone as the only woman for over a decade was sometimes hard. I used to be angry with my coach and the world at times. This certainly made me stronger and confident, having to go through many camps alone and just the journey itself as the only female. Today, I can finally say I see a few girls who can step into my shoes.

Ilieva in action during the final of the 2016 European Judo Championships (Photo: Carlos Ferreira)

Ilieva won gold at the European Judo Open in Oberwart 2022 (Photo: Gabi Juan)

Out of many interesting facts of Ilieva, one is her consistency to compete in the -57 kg category since the beginning of time. How?

I don’t have problem with the weight. I am not saying it’s easy, but I never thought to change. I just need to be disciplined and I make sure that during competition period I keep within a certain range. 

Finally, at the annual European Judo Open in Sofia, this year, it will be a larger team. Although, the 2016 European silver medallist [Ilieva] has bigger fish to fry, she thoroughly enjoys competing on home soil. 

I am happy to represent our club and my country at home to show good judo and to show the result of our hard work. Also, this is the only event my parents are able to join me, so it is especially important because of that.


Author: Szandra Szogedi