These historic Olympics have just ended, yet they leave within us emotions that don’t go away so quickly.
In fact, it’s always special for me to see people I’ve gotten to know and photograph take part in that event.
Today I would like to present to you some portraits that I have taken of some judoka who participated in Tokyo 2020.
The first one is Saeid Mollaei, silver medalist in the 81kg, whose story ended up on the headlines around the world in 2019.
Just fresh from the world title won the previous year, at the world championships in Tokyo, during the competition, Mollaei received phone calls from the Iranian government intimating that he would lose his next bout in order not to consequently face an Israeli athlete. If Saeid had not obeyed, there would have been repercussions on his family and loved ones. Between a rock and a hard place, the Iranian judoka obeyed on that occasion, only to escape and receive asylum in Germany and accept Mongolia’s proposal to fight under their nationality in order to continue to live on what had always been his passion: judo. Saeid has not yet been able to return to Iran since that occasion, but surely the silver medal in Tokyo reflects in some way his redemption for all his sacrifices.
But in addition to Mollaei, there are portraits of many protagonists who have stepped directly onto the Tokyo tatami: each with their own story, each with their own experiences, each with their own dreams. Here you will see some of them and what I want to tell you today is only one thing: when you meet an athlete, whatever discipline he practices, take a moment and talk to him. Ask him about his dreams, his passion, his story and then a whole world will open up in front of you.
And I want to make one last mention to those who follow these athletes, those who sit on the chair outside the tatami and rejoice and suffer with them: the coaches. For example, there is Fabian Marjan, coach of Sankaku Celje (Slo) who boasts in his career the bronze in 2004 and gold in 2012 of Urska Zolnir, gold in 2016 and silver this year of Tina Trstenjak, bronze in 2008 of Lucia Polavder and bronze in 2016 of Ana Mari Velesnek. Marjan is a true institution in the world of judo. And to make you understand what kind of character he is, suffice it to say that at the Rio Olympics, during the competition of Velesnek, who had suffered a knee injury a few weeks earlier, he promised her that if the competition was successful he would walk to the Breze Sanctuary from Celje. Needless to say, his words were not just words and, on his return to Slovenia, he ran those 116 km to keep that promise.
And we can understand how even for a coach, at the end of the day, what burns inside their soul is a mixture of dreams and passion, which they cultivate with affection with their athletes.
Taking part in an Olympics is every athlete’s dream. It is perhaps the greatest satisfaction an athlete can achieve. There is a magical air about this competition, where the whole world is concentrated in one place, where everyone’s dreams come together. And, beyond the medal, the important thing is to be there.
The next time you meet someone who lives for sport, look into their eyes and you’ll be able to see that sparkle inside, just like the Olympic flashlight shines.