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Great article by Emmeric Le Person. Check out his amazing blog here (in French).

(translated by WeChat translator)

Can a face make you want to cross the planet? Yes!

Tournament of Paris 2017, hundreds of judokas are in the warm-up room . An indescribable atmosphere is rising. I must not disperse or I will lose the thread of my report. In these cases the experience takes precedence, and the eye on the goal I remain mobilized. How can we fail to understand that athletes who discover the Bercy cauldron for the first time, decompose and end up losing their means. Frenchmen fight in numbers in these first rounds and the atmosphere is close to its climax. The long corridor to the black drapes of the warm-up room will eventually lose them as it is impressive. If it ever takes place, I hope, however, that the 2021 edition will not be eight-closed. For it will look more like the entrance to a tomb than an entrance to the arena.

But back to the warm-up room. Calls from fighters follow each other in the sound system, impossible to ignore them. My concentration shows a notch and all of a sudden I see it:

The world stops in front of so much beauty. I already know that this fleeting moment will remain etched in me, even after my career. I would like to highlight her and take a picture of her when she has put on her judogi. But the spiral of competition is already sucking me up. I also suspect that I will have a hard time finding Yannan the rest of the weekend. The Paris Tournament has rarely succeeded to the Chinese team, crushed by the event. Moreover, it acts as a ghost by its discretion and its culture of secrecy. I realize that, in fact, I have had very little contact with this nation at this very moment. How could I have guessed what was to come?

Yet in 2015, during my first stay in Mongolia, I had a long discussion with Khaliun BOLDBAATAR. He is Munkhzaya’s companion TSEVEDSUREN. He was the assistant judo coach of the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. His description of everyday life was really chilling. He was the humanist, he the Mongolian of the steppes. It is to tell you the harshness of those who train up to 4 times a day without respite. Faced with the lack of atmosphere of the Chinese team I had not managed to come out something valuable in my report. But a great frustration was beginning to mount and for months Khaliun tried to get me to come to the center of HOHHOT, to no avail. It was too early, it was not the national centre either. Too bad I would have loved to tell from the inside his human adventure in the other face of this Chinese Mongolia. But in China it is first the school of patience.

Hong Kong will be for me the gateway to mainland China. When I covered the Asian Championships in the summer of 2017, I was able to fully measure all the human diversity of the continent dear to my heart. And for the first time, I finally discover the Chinese team. But how am I going to make this dream come true this time? Yannan LI will help me. I need a key, a front door. The language barrier is insurmountable at that time and no one knows me there. At least I thought so…

Yannan awaits his fight in the line of the appeals room. Again it is is breathtakingly beautiful.

So I start talking directly with the staff. I show them my rushes, we discuss the meaning of my approach. Coach Yu Xiang LIU will be very supportive. Thanks to the automatic translators we will refine the discussion to make sure that my request is not lost in the administrative meanderings of the Chinese Olympic Committee. She tells me that I am not a stranger and from my approach she would like to have a testimony of life of her team. The universality of photo reporting has never seemed so real to me.

Contacts with the federation will last for almost a year. In June 2018 I have the chance to cover the East Asian Championships in Mongolia. China is one of them, as are Japan, the 2 Koreas, HKG, Macau, Taiwan. I’m not telling you the atmosphere! The team event will allow me to be as close as possible to the competition and to give back as much as possible the intensity of the encouragement of the teammates. Unfortunately, he will miss this sharing of the sound of the diversity of Asian languages that upsets me. Present for the course that followed, we took the time to get to know each other better with the Chinese team. Even if it is still too early to dare to speak of complicity, a certain connivance emerges and we enjoy seeing each other on a daily basis.

As the Hong Kong tournament has become my annual landmark, I am now part of the organization. Then my Asian contacts naturally strengthen with each edition. Depending on the geopolitical vagaries: one country – two systems, the China team is not present at every edition. However, everything follows as in a score for me. And I found the Chinese team a few months later after the Mongolian stay. Yannan is not there this time. But an athlete naturally catches my eye. She radiates positive leadership and always walks around with her camera to immortalize her team’s journey. It’s Anqi SUN.

She shows me her work and I give her leads to flesh out her reporting. In a way it softens me and this time the integration is done with the team. The joy of practicing their judo sweats on the tatami.

This pleasure of practicing judo is not a given in itself for a Chinese judoka. The culture of the result is real, found in all strata of society. But above all the weight of history is omnipresent. No one is surprised that France is the largest nation in handball, a German sport. Our European history has succeeded in this assimilation. We can be proud of it to live in a world of peace. But the past is heavy between China and Japan. The Sino-Japanese war left indelible traces. The Nanjing Massacre of 1937, for example, will never be forgotten. So when China decided to get involved in judo, it wasn’t without ulterior motives for the leaders. China is above all the land of kung fu let’s not forget it! But it is not an Olympic discipline. So judo was a default choice and not necessarily rewarding at the beginning for the athletes who were recruited at the start of this adventure. For the record it should be known that his teaching is done using only Chinese terms to designate all the techniques of judo. It is with this data in mind that I see, captivated by this joie de vivre, which seems to animate this team in front of me.

But what’s the secret? For me it’s double.

President Dongmei XIAN
First of all, any new score worthy of the name requires an outstanding composer. Bringing China into a new dimension, taking a step forward, it was necessary to have an exceptional personality at the helm. Know how to challenge yourself and look elsewhere for the right talents for your goals. Madam President XIAN put it into practice. Despite her two Olympic titles, including Beijing, she could have blindly relied on the system that carried her so high. Teaching in pain and perpetual self-improvement is not synonymous with self-fulfillment. So far from the notions of Taoism that are the basis of ancestral Chinese thoughts. This is how she did not hesitate to go and find talent outside her borders. That is my second point. As such, she went to recruit her conductor.

It is a monument of humanism and pedagogy, the French Jean-Pierre MILLON. He will take charge of the women’s team. In the land of MAO it’s a real revolution!

With such an alignment of planets my efforts eventually came to fruition and here I am in Guangzhou to cover the Masters missioned by the Chinese federation in December 2018. After a 2 hour train ride from Hong Kong I began my immersion in this huge country. I arrive on the platform, inhabited by this certainty: I am here in my place.

This is a great opportunity for China to face the best judokas in the world. With 4 athletes allowed per category, the staff will collect valuable data as to the height of the walk that remains to be crossed to reach the top. How am I going to find the athletes, who have been overwhelmed by the event, or will they take full advantage of this opportunity?

It’s barely 8am, I’m in the first shuttle that brings you to this prestigious tournament. As often I find myself with the physio from Japan who will take the opportunity to mark the area of the whole team in the warm-up room. Some teams will bite their fingers afterwards for neglecting this detail. The level of professionalism is determined by such details. By smugness, some nations neglect it. A competition is more than 8 hours of presence, so you might as well do everything to put your athletes in the greatest possible comfort. Success starts there. Already Chinese judokas are slumped and rest.

There are still only a handful, mails they look at me, stunned that I am interested in them. That’s all the salt of this job: valuing those who have never been. The mission is very clear. It’s taking the Chinese team exclusively during the playoffs, then expanding in the finals and promoting the judo in the Chinese media.

In the end, I don’t feel any particular pressure in the Chinese team. A serenity dominates. It is the staff who lead by example, With Jean-Pierre MILLON in the lead. I think they are aware of their potential and take this competition as a life-size test. The staff will be able to put the cursor in the right place for the rest of their Olympic preparation.

I meet Yannan LI with his friend they form a beautiful couple. His journey will stop too soon. There will be a few pictures left.

Sportingly only Tongjuan LU will come out of the hens.

But his complicity with Jean-Pierre MILLON took on an extra dimension.

The cut will be an opportunity to take the time to get in touch with Jean-Pierre. The photo is worth a thousand words. So you might as well leave my tablet so he can watch my compilation on the Chinese team quietly.

I’ll meet him soon after. For me it was a beautiful moment of encounter. Chatting with an open-minded coach is always a treat. Supreme luxury is done in French. So it is easier to go to the end of his thought, to argue as fairly. I tell him about my own experience with the Chinese team. I see that the pleasure of practicing finally exists. My discussions as an aside, with Anqi SUN in particular, abound in this sense. I also talk to him about the role of photography in human relationships and how much he could benefit from it for the development of his athletes. Selfies are of their generation but we quickly find the limits. The posed photos, scripted, will never have the impact of authenticity. We don’t see each other living. This stop on image shows that we can rely on it to value the humanity that emerges from this team.
In the end I enjoyed this unique experience. My criterion for success of a report is when I can get to the heart of their concentration without them realizing it. But the best thing is to make your own opinion, right?

So what’s the future for this team? I don’t read coffee grounds when it comes to the charts. But what is certain is that this group will emerge transformed from the quarantine that has hit it since the beginning of the epidemic. Until proven otherwise, after more than a year of isolation, the China team will return to Georgia in March 2021. More than one team would have literally imploded in the face of the constraints endured for so long. Not China, that is the strength of its history. All my information goes in that direction. She did not demobilize. Even at a distance, Jean-Pierre MILLON’s influence has had its effect. He gave the keys to the metamorphosis of the women’s team. They trusted his message and flourished. So frankly no matter what the results are coming, the important thing is to be there. Because nothing will ever replace competition.

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