5:20 08 sep

What’s up... Christophe Lambert?

Interview with the former -90kg from Germany, now doctor

He’s the namesake of the Greystoke and Highlander’s famous French actor. Third in the -90kg category at the 2012’ European Championships, he fought for Germany in London. Now retired, the 33 years old doctor studied carefully the judo injuries theme. Interview.

European podium and Olympic qualification. Chelyabinsk 2012 or the day of grace for Christophe Lambert.
©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo

Despite a name that sounds very French and the article that we had dedicated to you in 2012, readers in France do not know you that well. Can you give us a little overview about your story ?
Well, I'll try to do that. I was born in Braunschweig, Germany. My mother is French, from Grenoble, and my father is German. He is an engineer and she teaches French. We spent all of our holidays in France at my grandmothers, and one of my first judo courses was in France with Jean-Pierre Millon. I remember that at this stage I had to take at least 200 ippons with yoko tomoe nage, and that's how I learned to do yoko tomoe [Laughs]. We still have a lot of friends in France - Cyrille Maret, Jordan Amoros and Antoine Jeannin, all of whom I spent a lot of time in junior - and at home we speak a mixture of French and German.

You say “we” because your little brother is also a judoka, right?
My brother Maxime is in judo yes. We get along really well and, despite our four years apart, he's even my best friend. In fact it was him who was training me in a big part of my career. Without him I could never go to the Olympics, it's really him that I have to thank for 90% of my judo. He was 5th at the World Juniors and European Juniors in 2008, but after that he had to have knee surgery for five times and was unable to continue the high level. Now he is working a lot with Laura Vargas Koch and Miryam Roper as a coach.

How did you come to judo?
I started at the age of nine at the club in our village of Holle, where my father was president, where my teachers were Bernd Lühmann and Sven Loll, and in which my brother and I are still involved. My parents moved there and my first friends happen to all be judokas. So they took me and I tried this sport, while playing football at the same time. The first years I really struggled. I was not bad but never the best... I even remember that a regional coach told my club coach "say Lambert to stop, he has no sense for judo, it's useless". Hearing that being 11 years old, it hurts but it motivated me to prove him that he was wrong and, at age 13, there was a click: I won my first national tournament and entered the under 15 national team. After I did all the European and World Championships in the youth teams. In juniors, I became 5th at Europeans and 9th at the Worlds. It was not bad but I always missed something to get level for the medal.

Saturday 28th April 2012, Chelyabinsk European Championships. With a waza-ari and a yuko against him, and only 46 seconds to end this second round match, Christophe Lambert tries a win or lose attack against the reigning two times World champion and European champion, Ilias Iliadis from Greece... ©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo

When did you cross this level?
I won my first European medal at the European Championships -23 in 2007 in Salzburg. After, I changed category and moved up to -90kg. I relatively quickly adapted my judo and made first results. I was always light - I have never weighed more than 85 kg - and I think now that it was one of he reasons I did not manage to be at the top international level… In 2012 I had the chance to participate in the Olympics in London. Except the competition [He ended it with a broken jaw, a rupture of cruciate ligaments  and a tear of the left shoulder’s labrum, ed.], it was a great experience which touched me and showed me that all the work I put into judo was also for that.

A rather positive balance, in the end?
Explaining what this sport means to me is difficult. I lived so many beautiful things with judo... Today I think thanks to judo I am who I am now. I do not know any sport where there is so much respect for the partner and also for the opponent.

Do you remember a special moment?
The example that touched me the most was the one I told you after the 2012’ European Championships in Russia [cf. EDJ38]. I had just beaten Ilias Iliadis and it was a big surprise for him as well as for me, since he had not lost for two years in the big championships and I was around the 30 spot in the world ranking. The night before, I even grabbed a beer with a friend after having a look at the draw, because my dream to qualify for the Olympics seemed over when I knew that I’d have to meet him early in the competition… Just after the fight he was really angry. We went into a small tunnel to go back to the warm-up room and I did not dare to pass him because I really thought he was going to hurt me… In the evening I was celebrating with my coaches in a bar. Suddenly the door opens and there I see Ilias Iliadis who comes directly to me. I was already ready for a second fight [Laughs]... He arrives, he takes me in his arms and said: "Christophe, I congratulate you. You did a great competition, I hope it will be enough for the Games"... For me, this is a real champion. For him it was a humiliation to lose against me and, still, he is such a great athlete and human being that he congratulates me. That, for me, is the spirit of judo.

... and turns it, aged 26, to the most astounding victory of his carrer. ©Paco Lozano/L'Esprit du judo

You managed to pursue long studies in parallel. What impact had this demanding curriculum on your judoka career?
Indeed, I studied medicine in Cologne. Normally medical studies in Germany last six years. I took a year and a half longer because, before London, I took a break to get the right preparation. For me it was always clear that I wanted to do medicine. I also needed to work or train my head, to do something else beside judo. I think it's like everywhere. If you work hard you can succeed. I always met teachers who did not agree to that, then I did both but it was my decision. The university also helped me in judo because, when I had bad moments in judo, I could go to University and forget everything with friends with whom I no longer spoke of judo and focused on other stuff. It helped. I never doubted my ability to do both, because for me it was the best solution.

It was easy to reconcile everything?
I think that the university system in Germany, to do a high level sport where you do not make a lot of money, is catastrophic. Nobody helps you, you're alone and have to organize everything yourself. It’s just impossible.

What could make it possible?
We should have more support for high level athletes who, in addition to their high level sport, are doing studies. I think that the system as it is in the United States would be a system that could work in sport, and I think that if more European countries had this system we would win more Olympic medals. In London I met a German swimmer who had a scholarship at the University of California. He explained that there, everything was organized for athletes. The University courses are adapted to the training, catch-ups exist if necessary, they have the apartment, the food, the equipment. Their only concern, basically, is to train hard.

Maybe it’s a bit different for judokas, as we heard from US athletes… Anyway, what are you doing now?
After six years we are doing our specialization. I am in my third year in orthopedics and surgery. At the moment I am one of the doctors of the German National Judo Team and I am a doctor in charge of the Olympic Center in Cologne. I am super happy to have this chance to work with athletes, it motivates me. It's my new high level sport, actually [Smile]! My little brother is also in medicine. He still has one year of study and our dream is to open together a practice with a specialization in sports medicine.

Back to 2012 in London with his brother Maxime ©Archives Christophe Lambert

Can you tell us more about the research you just worked on?
For my doctoral theses I did a study with Ralph Akoto, a former German judo champion and doctor in Hamburg. We wanted to analyze which injuries in judo are the most common, which injuries cause the biggest absence on the tatami, which injuries have an impact on the level of an athlete when he returns, etc. The questionnaire was relatively simple so that each judoka could fill it out over the Internet. More than 5000 judokas participated between September 2013 and January 2014. The motivation for this questionnaire came a little because I had a lot of injuries myself but - I was lucky! - I could live my dream of the Olympics. But I think a lot of, mostly young athletes have to stop with judo because they have an injury - my brother Maxime is an example close to me. My goal is to reduce injuries, to look at the actions that cause injuries, to find prevention systems specifically for judo and, when someone is injured, to find systems to return them to judo safely.

What major trends emerge from the results?
The study clearly demonstrated that anterior cruciate ligament rupture should be considered as one of the most serious injuries in judo, right before disc herniation. Many known judokas have suffered anterior cruciate ligament rupture in their career. Ole Bischof had a ruptured cruciate ligament before winning gold at the Beijing Olympics. Andreas Tölzer also had an anterior cruciate ligament tear, he was a finalist twice at the 2010 and 2011 Worlds and won bronze at the London Olympics. Unfortunately many, with this injury, do not come back to their level. In football, handball, basketball or skiing, the problem was realized earlier. There are a number of scientific studies on this subject where we can learn something.

How can we prevent these injuries?
There are few prevention programs. One of the biggest successes comes from football, the FIFA 11+. With a program like this, serious injuries could even be reduced by 50%. This requires regular implementation of the program, at least twice a week. The FIFA 11+ program is based on a 15-minute warm-up program with different exercises. The key points of the program are basic stability, neuromuscular control and balance, stabilization, posture, balance and anticipation.

What about judo?
We see that judokas with a high level are injured more often than judokas with a lower level. For the girls, there are more injuries of the lower extremities like the leg, the knee as well as the cruciate ligament, than for the boys. These results can be found in other sports such as handball and football, where girls have a much higher risk of injuries of the cruciate ligament.

Other injuries often come back?
A second injury that is often found in judo is concussion, and for me we were not enough aware of that till now. Before us, american football has done a lot of research about it. These show that repetitive concussions when you are between 30 and 40 years old can be a major problem in the nerval system, which can result in a very high level of dementia. In american football and rugby, this problem was evaluated and allowed to build safer systems, in order to allow a return to sport after a concussion.

©Archives Christophe Lambert

What factors, for example, explain why girls are more likely to be injured at the knee than boys?
Among the most common injuries of judokas, upper limb injuries concern about 42% of male and 38.5% of female judokas. On the other side, 46.7% of girls had lower limb injuries, boys only 43%. The risk of ACL ruptures is usually higher in women. Many studies indicate that hyperlaxity happens with a higher number among adolescent girls than among their male counterparts[1], [2], [3]. R. Ramesh found that ACL lesions are more common in patients with global joint hyperlaxity, particularly knees[4]. We also found that girls use more techniques like uchi-mata, o-uchi-gari or osoto-gari. The risk of a distortion of the knee is much higher with these techniques. In boys, there are more ‘infight’ techniques like “ura-nage Khabarelli style”, that explain the rate of injuries of the shoulder.

How long does an average athlete rest after suffering a specific judo injury?
77.4% of judokas took three to six weeks to return to judo after a concussion. After having suffered a distortion of the ligaments of the foot, a broken rib, a concussion or the rupture of the ligaments of the elbow, 90% of the judokas return on the mat after three months. After suffering a nonspecific knee injury, an acromioclavicular disjunction, a nonspecific shoulder injury, clavicle fracture or meniscus injury, 90% reported to have started judo again in the first six months. 75.8% of athletes who had anterior cruciate ligament rupture were at least three to six months out. 26% for six to nine months, 32.2% between nine and twelve months and 17.6% had a break with sports judo.

Which injuries last longer than 12 months?
The only injuries in which a timeout of more than 12 months was documented were anterior cruciate ligament rupture (14%) and disc herniation (12.6%). After rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament or disc herniation, respectively 32.2% and 38.9% of the judokas were able to regain their sporting level after the injury. For all other injuries, 50% of judokas could return to their previous level. 24.4% of athletes with anterior cruciate ligament reported that their athletic level after injury was significantly reduced, which is the highest value compared to other injuries. Herniated discs forced 7.9% of athletes to stop their careers.

What conclusions do you draw as a judoka and as a doctor?
I think that in judo injuries are part of everyday life. It's a combat sport, so we will never be able to eliminate all the injuries, but I think the purpose must be to analyze the movements that can be dangerous and build prevention programs. For example, I think there are too many tournaments today to qualify for the Olympics. On the one hand, it is good to make judo known in the world, but on the athlete side, it's too much. In all professional sports there is a season with a preparation and a break. With us it's not really the case! I have just compared injuries at the Olympic Center in Cologne for 2016 and 2017. And we can see that in 2017, a non Olympic year, there is about 60% less serious injuries.

What do you think about weighing the day before?
At first I did not agree. I thought athletes would be doing even bigger diets on the grounds that they have more time to regain energy. But apparently there are fewer injuries in competition because the athletes are better hydrated. So maybe the new weighing rules are good, yes.

And you physically, how are you today? Not too broken?
I'm starting to feel my high age [Laugh]. I try to do sports at least five times a week. Tuesday and Thursday night I am at the Olympic Center to look after the injured judoka and when I have enough time I do a little randori. With my brother and my fiancée, we try to do some judo for us. It's hard to accept this feeling of not knowing how to fight, but in my heart I'm a judoka. I need to be on the tatami.


Interview by Anthony Diao

[1] Huston LJ, Wojtys EM. Neuromuscular Performance Characteristics in Elite Female Athletes. Am J Sports Med. 1996; 24: 427-436.

[2] Rozzi SL, Lephart SM, Gear WS, Fu FH. Knee Joint Laxity and Neuromuscular Characteristics of Male and Female Soccer and Basketball Players. Am J Sports Med. 1999; 27: 312-319.

[3] Shultz SJ, Shimokochi Y, Nguyen AD, et al. Measurement of Varusvalgus and Internal-external Rotational Knee Laxities In Vivo. Part II: Relationship with Anterior-Posterior and General Joint Laxity in Males and Females. J Orthop Res. 2007; 25: 981-988.

[4] Ramesh R, Von Arx O, Azzopardi T, Schranz PJ. The Risk of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rupture with Generalized Joint Laxity. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2005;87: 800-803.


A French version of this interview is available here.



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