Sit and talk with Tina Trstenjak and Clarisse Agbegnenou
Women’s tennis had Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, like cinema had Al Pacino and Robert de Niro in Michael Mann’s Heat… But what about judo, since the end of the rivalry in the -78kg category between Mayra Aguiar and the double Olympic champion Kayla Harrison, now retired? A few weeks ago in Düsseldorf, the two leaders of the -63kg category answered without preparation to our verbal ping pong. A kind oh haïku conversation which has to be read in two ways: for what they say about champion’s mind; and for what they hide, or say between the lines or beyond the smiles. Indeed, for the 26 years old World #1 from Slovenia and 24 years old World #2 from France, that rivalry seems more than ever a reality.
Tina Trstenjak and Clarisse Agbegnenou, February 2017 in Düsseldorf, Germany
©Anthony Diao/L'Esprit du judo
What are the strengths of the other one?
Clarisse Agbegnenou: For me Tina is fast, smart and dangerous in ne-waza.
Tina Trstenjak: Clarisse is smart, powerful and dangerous on ura-nage.
And the weak points?
CA: Maybe sometimes she makes some confusion between speed and haste. It can be a two-edged move.
TT: It’s a difficult question because I don’t really see weak points in Clarisse’s judo. All will depend of the fight.
April 25th, 2014. European Championships final in Montpellier, France. Clarisse, 1, Tina, 0.
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
How your rivalry made you become a better judoka?
CA: I know that I have to shut up shop with Tina because she will seize on any openings to launch something.
TT: I feel lucky to have such an opponent like Clarisse. I won almost everything the last two seasons, but the simple fact to know that I could eventually meet her again helps me to stay focused.
What would have been your career if the other one wasn’t there?
CA: I need challenges otherwise I’m boring. Tina is my challenge at that time.
TT: I feel that with Clarisse. It helps me to try to improve, again and again.
How often do you think to each other? Is it daily? Weekly? Monthly?
CA: Wow… You know for me there is my life, then the judo. It’s in that order, so the only moment I’m thinking about Tina is when I have to fight against her. And I think it’s quite enough. [She smiles]
TT: Same for me. To stay focused on Clarisse or on any other fighter would be a mistake for me. The most important is to focus on my judo. If it happens that Clarisse is on my way, only my judo will help me to win.
August 9th, 2016. Rio's Olympic Games final. Clarisse, 3, Tina, 3.
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
When you start a competition where both of you are registered, do you hope to fight against each other, or do you feel relieved if the other one is defeated earlier?
CA: It’s more than a wish: I know that I will fight her. But you know, for me it’s quite simple. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Nowadays, between the first place and I there is Tina. So I have to fight her. And I’m okay with that!
TT: Same for me. If I win a competition where Clarisse is registered but without fighting her, the taste will be different. I don’t want to be disrespectful with the other girls from the category, but that’s the point: Clarisse is the toughest opponent I’ve ever met.
CA: Same for me.
In your category of the -63kg, the last Olympic cycle started with a rivalry between Clarisse and Yarden Gerbi from Israel. Both ended 2nd and 1st at the 2013 World Championships then 1st and 2nd at the 2014 World Championships. Then this Olympic cycle ended with your rivalry, because you ended 1 and 2 at the 2015 World Championships then at the 2016 Olympic games. What is the difference between these two rivalries?
CA: Yarden, it’s a different judo. I have some points of references against her. With Tina, really, I can’t afford any single mistake because I know she won’t miss me!
TT: I lost quite often against Yarden [for example in 29 seconds on their quarter final in Chelyabinsk 2014, ed] but I have to admit that I’ve worked a lot since that times. I’m a different Tina now.
February 11th, 2017. Paris Grand Slam final. Clarisse, 3, Tina, 4. Let's save the next date?
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo
Since your first match in the 2014 European Championships final, you fought seven times each other. Clarisse, you have won the first three matches. You, Tina, you won the last four, among them three finals in a row in Astana 2015, Rio 2016 then Paris 2017. Now that the European Championships in Warsaw then the World Championships in Budapest are coming soon, do you work on a secret weapon in case of a new fight together?
TT: Of course not [She smiles]. Even if I wanted to work on a trick like this, Clarisse would see it from far because she knows me perfectly now. It’s too late for trying to astonish her.
CA: Sometimes I ask my training partners to fight in “the Tina’s way”, in order to see how I can adapt myself. But for me the real difference will be made on the D-Day, because even if you try to “act like Tina”, at the end there is only one Tina. And I know that I will have to be ready, because she will be ready.
TT: For me, if we have to fight each other again, the difference will be the strategy I will decide with my coach Marjan Fabjan, and overall my capacity to follow this strategy until the end of the fight. This is what I’ve managed to do the last times we met and the result was positive for me. So I’m working to go on like this.
CA: And me to stop it. [They laugh]
Interview by Anthony Diao
A French version of that interview can be read here.
See below for a replay of a report at Tina Trstenjak's club published in EDJ#59 :
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