Photos: Ivo Čagalj / PIXSELL, HJS/IJF

First Croatian world judo champion talks to us about her passions and challenges, judo as a lifestyle and other topics

According to the father of Judo, Kanō Jigorō: ‘Judo is the way to the most effective use of both physical and spiritual strength. By training you in attacks and defences, it refines your body and your soul and helps you make the spiritual essence of Judo a part of your being. In this way you are able to perfect yourself and contribute something of value to the world. This is the final goal of Judo discipline.’
Barbara Matić is one of the people who fell in love with the magic of this beautiful martial art as a kid. The first Croatian world judo champion talks to us about the biggest challenges of her career, judo as a way of life, the sea and the Mediterranean.

How did you start practising judo?

It was in the first year of primary school, in the Pujanke quarter of Split, when coaches Vladimir and Slavko Preradović came to one of our PE classes to present judo to us. More than 20 years later, they are still my coaches and we are making nice things happen. I liked judo because I could hang out with cool people, travel, grow; the training was diverse and I fit it all into my life. You can hear sometimes that I chose judo over ballet, but back then they were the only two activities in the Pujanke Primary School and I opted for judo because I was a chubby kid and I didn’t see myself dancing in tutus. I immediately liked what I saw in that demonstration class. I came home and said to my mum, ‘I want to practise judo’. And that was it.

You won the first senior judo medal for Croatia – the world gold. Can you remember what it’s like to stand on the highest step of a winners’ podium?

When I think of it now, I get goosebumps and I’m overcome with emotion. It’s surreal and beautiful. It’s the most beautiful dream come true, a feeling which can only be surpassed by happiness and satisfaction at winning the Olympic medal, hopefully the gold one in Paris in 2024. To listen to the national anthem in the world’s biggest competition, surrounded by top judokas, knowing that I would always be the first world judo champion from Croatia… That’s what you live and train for. I remembered all the challenges, efforts, sacrifices, nice people who were, and still are, supportive of me. So much goes through your head, which is hard to put into words, so you just show it with a smile and tears of joy.

Have you always known that you were destined to achieve great things?

I have always believed in myself and I realised from an early age that I was persistent, ready to work hard and to make constant improvements. Also, I saw that I wasn’t settling for the average, and I knew I was aiming for the highest scores and achievements. I was already successful in my first competitions, and then excellence and the top step of the podium became a measure for my own achievement. In addition to something I have inborn, I added a lot more, through work, effort and commitment, and then this whole mix brought about great results. Only, I’m not the type of athlete who settles for what’s been done; I know how much more potential I have in me, so after winning the world gold I immediately started to practise in order to be an even better and finer judoka and a person as a whole.

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