Friday October 30, 2015


Sarah Menezes (BRA)





Sarah Menezes suffers another disappointment on the World Judo Tour but her focus remains firmly fixed on the ultimate prize- victory in Rio 2016.


The disappointment is writ large on the face of Sarah Menezes as she reflects upon her second-round loss in the -48 kg category to Ebru Sahin of Turkey. She sits with her Brazilian teammates but is probably alone in her thoughts while munching on some fruit in the warm-up area. Perhaps reflecting on where her preparations for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are going wrong. She is yet to win a single event on the IJF World Judo Tour since the Tyumen Grand Slam in July 2014.


“I have to train more and stay focussed for the ultimate aim of winning gold in Rio. The loss is disappointing but it is not a big deal,” she says just minutes after failing to score an ippon in the dying seconds of her contest. There was no prominent show of emotion when she did, just a quiet sense of dejection on her face when she made the walk back from the tatami to the training area.


“I have a sports psychologist who works with me twice a week to help raise my confidence,” she says while also explaining that the process started much before the London Olympics in 2012. It is perhaps how she is able to quickly realign her thoughts towards the big goal, that of winning Olympic gold again, only this time at home.


“2012 was a huge change in my life as I was the first female judoka from Brazil to win an Olympic gold medal. I had victory parades and life in my hometown of Teresina just came to a standstill,” she informs the writer. It was a triumph that did not just come with the expectation of success but also that of social responsibility. Menezes has been working with local children in Brazil for the purpose of motivating them to take up sport for better lives. It has taken a lot out of her, with almost daily sessions being organised in her hometown while she lived there. Now that she has moved to Rio de Janeiro, she still travels back to her hometown to conduct as many as 5-6 clinics in a month. But it is not something that bothers the 25-year old judoka who is also studying to become a physical instructor.


London 2012 podium


Even as she speaks through a translator, Menezes keeps an ear out for every question while it is being asked. Her answers are short and staccato, perhaps because she is still reflecting on the performance of the day but she never even indicates that she doesn’t want what many would consider an intrusion soon after a disappointing moment. It’s also because her victory in 2012 trained her well in handling media queries. As she says, for almost a year after her gold-winning turn in London she was flitting between media interviews for almost a year. She became a celebrity in a country obsessed with sports and she was rare hero away from the national sport. She smiles a bit while recounting the experience of  ‘becoming famous’.


But causes her to laugh for the first time in the interaction are the recollections of her budding relationship with fellow judoka Loic Pietri of France. The two met consciously for the first time during the 2013 World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro and have been dating for over a year now. It’s a relationship fraught with the logistical troubles involving distance but it is also one where the distance brought the relief of technology to the rescue.


“The first time we met we had to speak through a teammate of mine who translated our conversation. Later Google Translate took over as we exchanged emails,” she recounts with a gleam in her eyes and a big smile on her face. It is a situation that could have led to many misunderstandings due to the inaccurate nature of online translation but it only strengthened the relationship as the underlying context of every message ‘was understood’. Now they are at a stage where both are learning each other’s mother languages although she says that Pietri is doing much better at learning Portuguese than she is at French.


Even as her time off the tatami keeps her invested, Menezes is very clear about her goal of winning in Rio. It is a responsibility according to her as there are expectations from the people and the national Olympic committee. But even more important is an underlying desire.


“Everything is great when you are an Olympic champion and the experience was life-changing for me. I want to go through the same feelings again,” she signs off succinctly. 


Photos © IJF media by Gabriela Sabau and Tamas Zahonyi

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