Ugo Legrand : "Let yourself go !"
The big championships. That and nothing else. Ugo Legrand, world medal-holder in 2011 in Paris approaches Rio in Legrand way, in serenity mode. A judoka who has things to be said, including to his team-mates.
©L'Esprit du Judo / Ugo Legrand.
Free. Of his thought, its attitude, its taste for the exoticism, the glide, the strong sensations, it is a "freestyle" Ugo Legrand in the soul which is going to appear in Rio. He will be expected there. " That does not put me under stress. The knotted stomach, I felt that only once, during the Games. It is this meeting with the challenges that pleases me. " Of those whom he has never missed up to there. The technician " made in Grand Quevilly " put an individual medal around his neck in all the big championships since the juniors, without exception, with a blow pronounced for the gold. An already remarkable route, at only 24. Nevertheless, we still wait a little more of this Mozart of the French judo. What does he really want ? did he really want to quit judo last spring like rumor had did, up to the point where Teddy Riner had « to kick him in the ass » in order to remind that everything was still to be done ? Who is finally this elegant man who sees himself in the work of Daniel Fernandes and a little less in the physical judo? What does one have to say about his « on the side » character that sometimes mkes him like a arrogant young man ? Ugo answers, sure of him and with the right words. In order to analyse his route and to go through the book of his greatests emotions. To tell his truth on the middle, the goal, the future. The paradoxal trauma of his junior european title, « my first big victory, a hard day, i was crying ». The feeling that « everything went so fast » then. Injured on his AC jointin december 2008, then again next july-« 2008-2009 ? A horrible season »- in november he wins the Francophonia games but admits today : « I win, but I’m really far away from saying to myself that I one day have an olympic medal…there is still work to do. » Three turning point later, he built himself a palmares to wich he knows everything step : « my 3d place during the EC in 2010, what a progression ! », « the defeat on the first round of the 2011 EC, a big slap in my face, I understood that everything can turn around fairly quickly. I wanted to go to fast, I was too sure of me. After that, no matches of competitions were the same » ; finally, this really rapid victory against the Korean Wang at the Paris WC in august 2011 : « I didn’t expect it to last 15 seconds, but I knew that I was playing my whole day on this fight. » If the former Judoka Of the Year wang Ki-Chu, beaten again during the OG two years later. Was this victory in 2011 as important for Uga than for the spectators in Bercy ? « Yes, I remember the moment when I was told who I was going to fight as if it was yesterday : i was in my bedroom in Marcoussis with Cyrille (Maret). I was happy to fight against him ? I never fled this king of meeting. »
Concerning the men who were important these past years et the relation between coach/coached, of course he mentions the men of his family : his grandfather Francis and his dad Rodolphe, judokas who themselves had an ancestor, François, a greco-roman fight champion in the 1920’s. His brother, Paco, one of the key men of the club. Larbi Benboudaoud, Benoît
Campargue who was the coach during his brilliant junior years of a generation which Riner and Maret are part of too – « I juste regret that he hampered my relation with Dany (Fernandes). I don’t really understand the point of confiscating the athlete. » Add the former vice world champion from Orléans, Stéphane Frémont and more recently Darcel Yandzi whose technical ambition seduced him. " I know that the staff wants him to take care of juniors but why wait to work with him? We complicate things for nothing ", claims the one who recovered in legs with the explosive 1993 Europe champion, these last weeks while the rest of the French team was in Font-Romeu. " I try hard to be in the mold, but I cannot be a sheep. I need to understand(include). " Men, women too. Charlotte, make-up artist, is his girlfriend met in the family club. " It is simple, we have been together forever. She is my balance. She does not speak about judo, it's perfect. Together, we visit exhibitions of art and we are always in Paris. "
" The taste of the beautiful things, the elegance for this fan of clothes. That of the others also, in inheritance. " At my grandmothers, the house was opened to all 24 hours a day. You could stay two days, three months, on one year. At my parents place it was similar. Often, when I came back home, there were a lot of people that I did not know! I always lived in this atmosphere. Often with refugees. A Russian slept at home during one year, a Chinese also.
Since then, he put down his suitcases in every corner of the globe, in particular in Mongolia, with the USO, and in Bali, his "paradise". His credo: push away his horizon, live the life. " I say to myself: hurry up to finish what you have to do in the judo to do something else and, at the same time, take advantage of it. " A message also sent to the other French fighters.
Ugo, the Games took place almost one year ago already …
I arrived relaxed at the Olympic Park, the opening ceremony was magic. In fact, I arrived there with a lot of impatience, without knowing well what was waiting for me. You are told that it is enormous, but we do not realize before doing it. I attended the first two days: Sofiane (Milous), David ( Larose) and there, the day before my own competition, I was overexcited, as if I was filled with an excess of adrenalin. To see the others fighting made me rise in pressure like never. I remember a moment when I was with Autumn ( Pavia) at the physiotherapist. We saw Priscilla ( Gneto) on the podium. There, we told ourselves: " it is crazy: to be there, wouahou! " The physio, Armelle O' Brien, had to make me a facial massage in order to relax. We went for a tour of the village. I went to bed at one o'clock in the morning, got up at four … Really in a hurry to weigh me, to go there, in a rush for everything. And there, just after the weighing, the feeling completely changed: I felt a pressure as ever in my life. I am never stressed, I had butterflies in the stomach, I felt oppressed. During the breakfast, in the shuttle which drove me to the stadium, I could not put distance on the event, I lost control, I had the impression not to be free of my movements anymore. I put myself in kim ', I put my feet on the mat and this contact with something known put back my feet on the ground, I felt better … I said to myself this morning: but what is happening to you? This mixture of extreme, deeply moving feelings, it was really very impressive. I was
simply, I believe, in the same state of mind as people who compete. For me, it was a new feeling. That lasted one hour and a half, but it was a crazy experience.
And when you got on the mat, you doubted to fetch this Olympic medal?
I was a lion, I was ready, I was great, I had the envy and I was lucky enough to take Pole Adamiec on the first round He had surprised me in ten seconds in the first round of the Master's two months earlier and, as a result, the concentration had to be at its maximum. Anyway, since my defeat at the beginning of the 2011 ECs, I put much more impact on the first round. I was not worried.
What do you hold of this day obviously not as the others?
The medal of course, but afterwards only. The memory which I have of it, is that I did not know where I was. I made my matches, I knew that it was an important competition because of the public and of the intensity that there was around me all day long. Even when I bet Wang, I saw that it looked like an exceptional thing but, in fact, I did not understand what took place. I was hyper satisfied, but at no time I said to myself that it is a place on the podium which takes place. Nothing slows me down, there is no stress.
In 2008, I had wondered what took place in the head of Wang and Mammadli during the Olympic finale (-73kg, EDITOR'S NOTE), a fight which could change their life for ever. I imagined myself how horrible it was … In fact, no. If it was for them as me for my place of three, it had to be a brilliant moment. Nothing negative, but a loss of total lucidity, clearly. It is doubtlessly mental, and I do not know weither its the conscious or the unconscious, but I know that I have this capacity to get loose from the event for the big meetings.
We often say of you that you are a judoka of big championships. But it is a risky bet every time … Yes, for sure. We blamed me for choosing my competitions. In fact, that does not take place like that. Things are well set up upstream of the event with a psychological preparation which I do myself. I know how to condition myself on precise and important things. I do not put as much energy on a French team championship that on a Miami Grand Prix. Between both, there is a difference. And between Miami and the WC in Rio, it will have nothing to do either. I believe that I do not know how to do differently.
Is it possible for you to register in the world circuit?
If I am out of step with the system? Completely. I am not made for it. The year which made Autumn Pavia succeed in machine war mode with a victory in Paris, one in Düsseldorf and the European title, I am incapable to do it. I believe that I feel more at ease in the old-fashioned way :only some important competitions and still, the only one, the world championships and the Gamesevery four years, really matter. The problem with this functioning, is when it doesn’t go weel, everything can get really complicated rapidly.
I was going to mention that …
(Laughs) I assume that and, at the moment, it works. I do not doubt, I have no reliable problem. I am persuaded that I am going to win another world medal in Rio. It is not because my year didn’t go well that I am not going to be a world champion at the end of August. I do not need to feel reassured by winning tournaments. Moreover, when we imposed me to do that, it did not work. In 2011, we sent me to an Open in Germany (in July in Hamburg, EDITOR'S NOTE). I fought five times, loose two, I am bad, the world championships take place one month later and around me, I feel a lot of agitation. I hear" how he is going to make if he does not already manage to beat these guys there (The British Oates and the Dutchman Van de Kamer, EDITOR'S NOTE) ". I, in my head, I am not absolutely worried, I know that the goal was not that one.
It is your taste of the challenge?
Yes, I adore that. I like to be right. You announce a thing, you do it. That, it is beautiful. I pleases me because people wait for the chance to trip up you even more. I do not make the swaggerer a posteriori by saying " I told you so", I am happy to have succeeded, for me. It is a personal satisfaction, not against something or somebody, but for me.
Some must take that for arrogance sometimes, no?
Yes, but it was not my internal attitude. I do not play a game, I am not an actor, I don’t do it on purpose. I am like that, it is my conviction on the way of making things. If we wanted to impose me to do seven tournaments in the year, I think that I could not make it. It is unnatural for me.
Was that easy to manage with the supervision?
Up to here, I reached the goals which confirmed my choices. I remember one year when I had chained up Abu Dhabi, France, Kano, China … I lost until I decided to win China because I could not end this sequence like that. That was a surge of pride. If, for example, we put me on an Asian tour with China, Kano and Korea, I know that it is not for me. I cannot make a medal everywhere, it is impossible. Thus that is of no use. It is better to compete in only one tournament and to win it. My medal of the Games allowed me to be understood and supported. Now, you should not always go in my direction! I do not know everything and I know that as an athlete I dind’t always put distance on myself. That is why I listen to people I trust.
As the family with your father Rodolphe and your brother Paco, and Dany Fernandes too …
My family unit does not intervene on my choices in judo. My father, is not a guide, he puts himself in the position of the spectator and I prefer that. I can speak with him for hours, but the technical choices, are made somewhere else. The word which counts most today at the level judo, it is the one of Dany. He is essential. I was his training partner when I was junior. He was impressive, on the kumikata in particular. The man was atypical, intriguing. That interested me. During the preparation, he was particular: he spoke to almost nobody; on a diet, he was worse (laughts). I was small, discreet, but I realized that he was more and more accessible at the end of his career. He opened. We became collusive. He brings the most professional possible look on my judo today. I consider him as the most capable to make me progress. If I had to build a bridge, I shall visit Bouygues. You know that the guy, he is propped up (sic). With Dany, that's it: I think that it is the most experimented man to take care of me.
You look very responsible with your project …
Yes, but I say it: I cannot train alone, impossible. If I am left to my own devices, I do not train. I need to be pushed.
We say that Teddy rushed you after Paris, because you wanted to stop ?
At the beginning of the year, I did not know if I was going to be able to recover in the hardness, of hurting myself. I had gained weight, I was on holidays in Bali, I would have stayed over there if I could. Then, I discussed with my close relations, with Dany, with Teddy also, it's true. If I had been a Olympic champion, I would have stopped judo because I had the feeling, by being only 3rd in London, that i would have reached a goal. And I did not see well what he could have there behind. I am 24 years old, I want to make so many other things in life that I wondered if I was going to be able to make better than what I had succeeded here. Leaving without knowing if I could make better, it was no. The questions were: can I be a world champion? Can I be a Olympic champion? According to them, my adventure had not ended yet. I did not think that they lied to me. Then I said: " lets get back on the track again ". We were in January. Except that between the moment I said it and the one where I began to be effective, a lot of time had gone by (laughts). Then in Paris, I was burst (sic). Difficult. I said: out of the question to fight again if it’s do do that! That annoyed me. The second period of doubts opened at this moment: I did not really want to disappoint. Then, I accepted the idea that I could not be successful after two weeks of training. Now, there are three world championships and the Games, my job not to regret anything. The goal is to become world champion because it’s a childhood dream. After that you can go sereinly. When you are Olympic Champion it is worse , it’s multiplied by four…by you only get one chance.
Lets go back on the last weeks. You rise on the podium at the end of March in Turkey but you injure yourself, before taking the bronze in Miami at the beginning of June …
Even if I injured myself, in Turkey, I had fun. Certainly, that deprived me of the EC and of the Master, but it's not serious, they are not my goals. In Miami, I was not bad (Undone on Van Tichelt in semi finals, EDITOR'S NOTE). I have to participate to tournaments, so I divert the idea: of course that I do everything to win, but I do not get ready for the tournaments. I am going to tell you: I do not know if I shall be a world champion, but I am almost sure that I shall not win all the tournaments of the Grand slam, maybe even not the Paris tournament. No matter, if I am a world champion, , I leave the Paris tournament to you (sic). It’s not what matters.
What are the strong fighters, those whom you dread?
Elmont. It is not really a monster, he is not impressive nor very physical as Sainjargal is, but one of the most strategic and pervert of the circuit. Very malignant. Isaev, is a really exceptional judoka, a pure, technically enormous talent, with a commitment such as when you go out of a fight with him, you felt it! It is a tornado, really kind, I really love this guy. There is also the Japanese Ono - a guy who arrives and who is really good and Nakaya, who remains strong. You can add the Belgian Van Tichelt … We are not so many, I think, to form the hard core of -73kg, those who are a step above.
You include yourself in this group?
Yes, for the important championships. The difference between them and me, is they do not lose against whoever in Grand Prix or in Grand Slam. I can still lose on guys of lesser level. But not in world championships, nor in the Games. It is a little bit strange, but I have not understood everything on the Legrand case yet! When I speak with a competitor as Larbi ( Benboudaoud), who was my coach in juniors, he pull his hair: for him, it is inconceivable not to be affected by a defeat. When he took koka in the training, he was furious and the guy spent a nasty end of training. He sayd to me: " Ugo, you fool yourself when you say that a defeat in tournament does not affect you ". And it is true: loosing the way I did in Paris, it really hurt. But most of my defeat in tournaments don’t affect me.
On what have you technically progressed these last months?
My o-soto-gari is better, more precise especially. I think that I became more effective on the whole technical panel. I do the same thing since I am a child. I did it well, but my physical appearance of toothpick was not enough. Today, I can answer more physically in front of fighters more sturdy than me in the category. I progressed on the impact and it is what allows me to use my techniques, to be more precise.
Do you enjoy yourself when you look at the level of the world judo? Frankly? It is enormous. What impressed me, it is the capacity of the fighters as Telma Monteiro, the Russians, the Georgians or others to transcend themselves when we changed the rules and forbid the leg seizures. What judokas! Machines, technical answers like that, that makes me dream.
And this French team, you find it rather ambitious on the technical plan?
No. I think that the team has an inferiority complex. They put themselves barriers, limits, they think that, somewhere, the technical ambition, it is not for them while in the training, I see enormous things, fighters who launch attacks. The last European championships come to contradict my impressions and it is so much the better. I was really satisfied to see the evolution of a David Larose: I even find that fabulous! I think that it is the change of rule that forced him to put the hands, he is Martian now! As for Loïc Piétri, he is a war machine: he is a physical monster, but he became more precise, more placed … Today, he is the one who has least mental barrier in the group. At home, what is lacking, it is not the judo, it is to release ourselves. They begin to realize, as the young Georgians, that it is
possible. You release the guys, stop leaving the chance pass by! Today, on the mat, there are two guys who are a problem for me, Alain Schmitt and Loïc Piétri. They are monstrous and I know that I am going to make big matches when I take during training. Today, to bring down Loïc Piétri, it is complicated. As for Alain, I believe that I have never put him yuko. I want them to perform at the best level because they are fabulous judokas. The young Georgians can do it, why not us?
You act a little bit like a big brother with these comments …
I don't want to be modest, but I went there and I did not ask myself any questions. Others, as Alain, as Cyrille, looked at that more passively. There, something began to change.
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