What's up... Dex Elmont?
Once brothers. World medalist in 2010, 2011 and 2013, European Champion in 2014, 5th at the London Olympic Games, the 33 years old Dutch judoka stepped back last autumn. #1 at the World Ranking of the -73kg from November 2014 to May 2015, coached by Maarten Arens at the Kenamju of Haarlem, the eventually Doctor Daxenos “Dex” Elmont will remain to our readers as this unbreakable wall which stood in front of Ugo Legrand at least three times during the short career of the French judoka (WC 2011, OG 2012, EC 2014). Known as one of the cleverest fighters of the Tour, the youngest of the Elmont brothers – Guillaume, the eldest, was World Champion of the -81kg in 2005 – speaks about a career which ends right at the moment where the Dutch judo tries to centralize more his structures.
Montpellier, France, April 25th, 2014. Eight months after his father passed away and three months after the birth of his daughter, the three-times World medalist wins his first -and only- continental gold medal. ©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
You have announced your retirement on November 30th, 2016. Was it a hard decision to take?
I retired because it was my time to leave and exit the stage of professional judo. I once said that I would stop after the Bejing Olympics in 2008, so it was a long time coming. I'm happy that I didn't retire at that time because my best years were yet to come.
Why now, then?
I had several reasons to quit judo. I have two wonderful children and the impact of judo on my and their life became more and more out of balance. Also at the age of 33 I didn't see myself continue to fight another four years and still be fit in Tokyo 2020. Another reason to stop was because of my education. In 2017 I started with my Master studies in medicine. This means that I have to work in the hospital everyday from 08:00am until 18:00pm. Not a good schedule for a top athlete. So the decision had to be made.
During the Training camp in Sochi in July 2015 [cf. EDJ#61], your elder brother Guillaume, who got retired after an injury three months later, told me while we were doing uchi-komi that he was already aware on that time to live his “last training camp, last Europeans, last World Championships, etc.” Did you feel the same kind of melancholy on the road to Rio?
I knew that this would be my last Olympics and that the end might be coming, but the definite date wasn't set yet. Nonetheless I started to make the best of every situation, train hard and enjoying everything that happened the last year. My only regret is that I didn't start enjoying everything from the first moment I started fighting abroad. Do you know how fun it is to travel and to train and just have adventures with your friends? What an awesome time it was…
In that announcement you wrote that judo was almost 100% of your daily life: two trainings a day, eat, sleep, etc. What is your daily life right now?
My daily life is very different. The moment I stopped with judo everything changed. I became more involved and responsible in raising my two children. Judo was number one until I finished and now it has very little or no priority at all. I've had problems with my vestibulair system and hearing that started in early 2015, for which I visited three different hospitals. But until this day there is no solution for my illness. So I decided not to put on my Gi until I felt better physically.
You also announced that you will continue with “another white jacket”…
Well that other white jacket reverse to my medical study. I want to become a doctor in the near future. I'm trading one jacket for the other. I don't know what my specialty will be, but I'm interested in General Practice, Rehabilitation Medicine and Anaesthesiology. Before the start of Tokyo 2020 I want to have my degree.
You’re not the only Dutch top judo player who did long studies besides of judo…
I’m not the first one, indeed. Elisabeth Willeboordse and Jeroen Mooren successfully finished their medical study. Guillaume has a degree in Psychology, etc. The thing is that the system in the Netherlands isn't very supportive of atletes. Certainly not for judo athletes. There is a lot of money to earn in soccer, (speed) ice-skating and hockey. There aren't many jobs and there is no money in the long run. As soon as you finish your judo career you're on your own.
From France we hear many things about the new system in The Netherlands in this first year of the new Olympic cycle. Can you explain us exactly what’s happening?
The Netherlands have had a steady base of talents in the last 25 years. But we never had a broad selection like in France, Japan, Korea or Russia. The system of getting everybody on one location with the best structure is supposed to get more people to a higher level of judo. In the end we would like to have a bigger selection. And if we want to have success in the future we have to make changes. I'm not saying that this is the right one. We can only review the results in eight years.
Do you think the new generation of Dutch judokas will make it?
As an outsider now, I think the road to Tokyo will be one of individual paths with joint intersections. There is a new situation now and everybody needs to find their own way. But it's to early for conclusions right now. I really hope that we will see some Dutch medals in Tokyo!
In the crossed interview we’ve made in 2011 with your brother [cf. EDJ#33], you said that you had two dreams at this stage of your careers: winning the three medals (Olympic, World, European) or winning both a competition the same day. And you’re ending without having reached that two goals. No regrets about it?
Of course, I still would like to have an Olympic medal. But I think that no matter how great your career has been, how many medals you have won, everybody has that one fight, that one moment they wish they could do over again. So as the wise Cor van der Geest said: “You must enjoy the journey ahead, rather than focus on winning only”.
Ugo Legrand and Dex Elmont. During four years, the two judokas used to fight against each other on the final block of many big events, like here in the final of the European Championships in Montpellier - a match finally won by the Dutch fighter, once again.
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
In France you’re also known as the man who broke Ugo Legrand’s golden dreams three times: on Hantei in Paris 2011, then with two big and clever judo throws in London 2012 then Montpellier 2014. You’re ending your career with a 5-0 against him. And it happened that he announced his retirement on October 8th, 2015, the same day than your brother Guillaume. What will you remember about your rivalry?
Yes Ugo and I had a lot of fights and officialy I've beaten him a few times [Ugo won an exhibition in March, 2013, in his hometown of Orleans, named Lord of the Games, a kind of re-match of some fights of London Olympic Games, ed]. They were almost all big matches and still I have a lot of respect for him as a judo player. He lost to me in London, but he recooperated, got his mind on the right track to win bronze. Also he has beaten some guys who were very tough in my opinion. The way he became European Champion in 2012 looked so easy, I can still remember that... Our semi-final in Paris 2011 was very close. I was already preparing myself for the bronze medal fight because I thouhgt the referees would favor a Frenchman in France. You can see the surprise on my face when they appoint me as winner... About Ugo's retirement, I didn't hear it after a while. But I wasn't very surprised. The last year he looked tired and some what out of focus. I think he did the right thing and I hope he is having a great life.
In Rio 2013 you were very close to beat the Japanese Shohei Ono, like almost no one manage to do it this way since that. Can you tell us again your own version of that epic match? One of your mistake in the last minut was to try to « self-referee », no?
The fight in 2013 was very strange for me. I got ahead by yuko and Ono made some illegal actions (going under my arm with his head) but he didn't get penalized for it. So it was frustrating for me. The pressure went on and I got a draw. But with some time to go I still had a lead by two shido's. It’s a lot to explain, but I think the referee (Head referee) made a big mistake by giving me the shido with seconds to go. But Ono beat me fair and square in the golden score when I did an all-in attack.
He was also the fourth Japanese who beat you in four big Championships in a row…
Yes, me and the Japanese… They have beaten me a few times in key moments - two World Championships finals, a semifinal in London and this match in Rio 2013. They managed to fight at a faster pace than I was used to, which ended up with me getting a shido. I think I made the mistake to judo the "Japanese way" instead of the "European way", which means more fighting.
Montpellier, April 25th, 2014. Final of the European Championships. Attacking within the attack of Ugo Legrand, Dex Elmont ends with a massive ippon his long journey to gold, eleven years after his Junior European title. "It's been a long road" he said right after.
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
You had all the World and European medals except the gold before Montpellier 2014…
Montpellier was a great day for me! I finally got the golden medal which I think I deserved for a long time, despite of holding three World Championships medals. But in judo, nothing is certain - except that Riner wins everything [He laughs]. So for winning the gold you just need to beat everyone that one day. This is what happened in Montpellier.
Was it that day the peak of your career?
Looking back, I don’t know what the one big peak in my career was. I'm grateful for all the experiences I had during the big Championships. But I will always remember the adventures I had with my friends. I think that is more important. When you eat, sleep and practice with people, you really get to know them. And we also had some very memorable party's if I may say so [He laughs].
In our 2011 interview, you said that your parents forbid you to fight in the same category than your brother. How can you describe these years together on the Tour?
Me and Guillaume, we had some good times. I think all the experiences and adventures we had are more precious to me, then all the medals I've won. You can put a smile on my face just by remembering something from our past…
Three decades of complicity on and off the mat between the Elmont Brothers
©Archives Guillaume Elmont/L'Esprit du judo
I remember him coming at you in the mixed zone in Tokyo 2010, right after your silver medal at the World Championships, and give you a long and silent hug…
In my opinion, the toughest moments for us were our separate loses in the Olympics, both defeated in the semi's and lost the bronze medal match - Beijing for Guillaume, London for me. I didn't know how to comfort my brother after his loss. But I still can remember feeling his pain. I think he felt the same for me in London. In Tokyo, after the final, I was very sad after I lost. My brother came to see in the mixed zone. He had a big smile and told me that he was proud of me. That meant so much to me, that I went from sad to euphoric in a matter of seconds. The bond we have is very special and because of our skills as judoka we got very far and we were 'blessed' to share this long time on and off tatami.
Also in that interview, your brother said that the calendar made impossible for you to visit Suriname, the country were your parents were born, as often as you would like to. And you said that the calendar was inspired by the tennis system. Did you see that the last Australian Open’s winners, Serena Williams and Roger Federer, were aged 34 and 35 and played less matches last year than most of the other top players of the Tour. My question is: what are your ideas for a better Tour, a Tour that will let you go more often in Suriname and compete successfully over 35?
There is a big difference between tennis and judo. Tennis has more financial benefits. So even if my body was able to fight at this age, the social effects are not beneficial for my future. In life you have to make choices. Judo is becoming a full time job. Now you have to be in, OR you are out.
Any other suggestions?
Concerning the IJF World Tour, I think that there should be a system involving the minimal requirements for a Grand Slam or a Grand Prix. In the last few years there has been a discrepancy between the quality and the quantity between the Slams and Prix's. Paris and Düsseldorf are high on both quantity and quality, but that isn't the case all over the world. But I don't know how.
Your father used to be a champion [He fought for Suriname at the 1976 Olympic Games, ed]. Now Guillaume and you are fathers too. Is there a way to see a new generation of Elmont on the mat soon?
My children can become anything they want. But I would like them to practice judo for at least four years, learning the basic values. No matter what they become, I will always be proud. Maybe they will become successful musicians.
Once Guillaume told me that you will tell us the secret of the Elmont morote at the end of your career [cf. EDJ#29]. Well, here we are, no?
Ask the next generation [He laughs].
Interview by Anthony Diao
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