- Clarisse Agbégnénou participates, in the -63 kg category, at the World Judo Championships in Doha, a little more than ten months after the birth of her daughter Athena.
- She tells 20 Minutes about her new life, her organization to reconcile her sport and her life as a mother.
- "I wanted to be a mom, I want and I can do both," says the reigning Olympic champion.
"My goal is to come back with a medal." This Wednesday, Clarisse Agbégnénou appears on the tatami in -63 kg at the world championships in Doha in Qatar, a few weeks after her return to competition in Tel Aviv. After putting aside the case of kimonogate, the reigning Olympic champion is focused on her goals and told 20 Minuteshow she calmly manages to reconcile her double life as a high-level athlete and mother.
In one of the dojos of Insep, a few weeks ago, it is afternoon media marathon for the multi-medalist judoka. She answers with a smile as Athena, her ten-month-old daughter, plays nearby and passes from arm to arm: "She loves to meet people even if she still looks for me often. I try not to be in her field of vision otherwise she will want to do the interview with us, "smiles Clarisse Agbégnénou as the little one captures the subterfuge and joins us. "She's so used to me taking her everywhere. And then she is really super easy, she cries little and adapts quickly, "says the young mother tender.
What is a typical day in the life of Clarisse Agbégnénou today?
I don't really have a typical day, the days are similar but the workouts differ. In the morning, it's waking up at about the same time with Athena, who is a late riser even though she does not sleep through the night and wakes up every 1h30-2 hours to suck. I also recover at this time before continuing with the physical preparation. Either I take her or she stays with Dad at home. If she is with me, my physical trainer plays and takes care of her while I train. Then, back home at noon. She takes a nap and in this moment, ideally I rest, most of the time, I have things to do and I do not rest! Then, second training at 17 p.m. Now, my daughter is taller so she follows me less and stays at home with her father or someone around us who looks after her.
What has changed since your pregnancy in your training? In your daily life?
I'm not alone anymore. It is first of all her, I prepare her, I take care of her business, I make her suck. And then, it's me, I go for it. When I'm in my session, I'm very focused. But above all, it is his preparation and well-being.
How do you focus on your sport when you have a ten-month-old baby? How do we keep the same rigor, the same concentration?
It's not always easy. [Athena has retrieved a pen and tries to stand. She finishes on the buttocks, but does not get discouraged and tries again]. It's very sporty, you can see (laughs!) But we are no less than 100%. I am less focused on judo in my daily life. On the other hand, on a tatami, since it is a confrontational sport, I have no choice. It's so hard that you can't afford to be only 90%. So during my sessions, whether it's physical preparation or judo, I manage to manage. There now, Athena is growing up, demanding more attention, being more awake and therefore moving more. I prefer to leave it a little more, possibly to my spouse who accompanies me and manages it. It prevents her from seeing me and interrupting me. Otherwise he keeps her at home and enjoys their moments together. Because since I breastfeed her, it's true that she has spent a lot of time with me since she was born. So it also allows them to have their moments together.
Knowing how to surround yourself is the key to combining motherhood and high level?
When my maternity project became clearer, I quickly talked to my spouse, my mom, my little brother, Nadia [his agent] and they were unanimous in telling me "you have two and a half years before the Paris Olympics, we will be there to accompany you". Even my girlfriends are very present, they are delighted to keep Athena, they enjoy it. They also know that the situation is temporary. In a way, they contribute to my career and my sporting success.
Are there any frustrations? In your maternity ward? In your current practice of judo?
I am happy, I can see my daughter evolve on a daily basis. It is not kept in a nursery. Everyone helps and supports me. And as for sport, it's hard but it was already when I was alone. I find that I am doing well, I manage to be competitive despite my pregnancy, the postpartum, the education of my daughter.
How do you choose to have a child during your high-level career?
We discussed it with my husband, who is younger. He was ready to wait until after Paris 2024. But for me, it wasn't about the Games, even at home. The urge was far too strong for me to sacrifice, even temporarily. I wanted to be a mom, I want and I can do both. If I had waited, I would have been sad, I would have ruminated and I think it would have hurt my condition and even my results.
So it was unthinkable for me not to have a child before the Paris Games, even if it doesn't always happen when you want. I was lucky because even after taking the pill for ten years, I quickly got pregnant. Right after Tokyo, I threw away my brochure even though it wasn't finished and followed up with the post-Games media solicitations. Without calculating anything, in a few weeks, I was waiting for Athena.
Did you think about motherhood during your younger career? Were there any role models you identified with?
I had never thought about that. Already, it is complicated at the beginning of a career to know how long we will last, how it will unfold, know if we will succeed as we want. I dreamed of being champion. To have a child and come back no. I thought it was too hard. I would surely have answered: everything in its own time.
But motherhood was imposed, I did not ask myself more questions about the practice of my sport. I've heard people "it's going to be too hard, you're not going to make it". Even my own mother advised me to wait until after the Games, get into judo and see after. Becoming a mother before the Games in Paris was stronger than me. The choice for me was either to be sad for the Olympics in 2024, or to reconcile the two. I chose and I don't regret anything.
Would the decision have been different if you hadn't won the Olympic title in Tokyo in 2021?
I don't know. When I missed out on the gold medal in 2016 in Rio, my only goal after that was to become an Olympic champion. But now, with the postponement of the Tokyo Games for a year, I think I needed to breathe. I was coming out of a five-year cycle, which is very long, of crazy density both psychologically and physically. It was really difficult.
Is it important for you to show that it is possible to be a champion and a mother, especially on social networks?
I am sure of that. Knowing that today, we often hear that what we see on the networks is not reality. I show the cool moments as well as the difficult ones. And I get a lot of thank you messages like "thank you for showing that at home too, at nights, it's very complicated. We don't know how you do it, what you fuel on." I answer that I am lucky to be well accompanied.
I'm tired, for sure, I know I have to pay attention to my diet and sleep, but for the second part with Athena, it's complicated. So I will try to focus on diet and take nutrients for recovery. Not everything is easy. But it's a real joy. And then, I have the gold medal in Paris in my sights, I want to show my daughter that you have to give everything to achieve your goals.
Is the resumption of high-level sport "breastfeeding-compatible"?
It was a no-brainer for me, at least for the first six months. If my coaches hadn't agreed, I would have favored my daughter. The international judo federation allowed me to breastfeed him in the warm-up room at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, it had never been done. I met people who listened, who volunteered to test. And I hope to have paved the way for the next ones, that they tell themselves that anything is possible. Admittedly, the fatigue part is not easy to manage but the psychological part is very important in my opinion. And seeing my daughter happy is enough for me to get my motivation to win a medal. I also avoid real logistics, taking milk, water, powder, bottles, bottle warmers everywhere, it's a real time saver.
What is your state of form on the eve of Doha?
It's much better. I needed to do a lot of judo level. I started training again about a month and a half after I gave birth so it's only been nine months. That's not much. And I think I'm doing well. I found some automatisms, there is still a little missing. This bodes well for the Games in 2024. I would probably be a little fair for the Worlds where my goal is to come back with a medal, it may be complicated for the title but if the head follows, it can pass. And then, gold medal goal at home, I will give everything to retain my Olympic title.
- Paris 2024 Olympics