Bilodid covets Olympic judo gold to show Ukraine ‘still standing’

Ukrainian judo star Daria Bilodid says she wants Olympic gold in Paris not just for herself but to show her war weary compatriots are “still standing” despite two years of conflict.

“I always love to represent Ukraine, even before the war, but now I have more desire to win, not only for me, but for my country,” Bilodid told AFP on the sidelines of the Paris international training camp in the French capital this week.

“My sights (are) set on a gold medal. I really want it. We must show that we still have hope. We are still standing. It’s very important for our people and for Ukrainian youth.”

Bilodid was thwarted in her bid for a third world title last year after Ukraine boycotted the Doha championship in protest at the presence of Russian judokas.

Bilodid posted on Instagram at the time how she found it “unacceptable to allow soldiers from a terrorist country that kills Ukrainians every day to take part in international competitions”.

This summer, only Russian athletes who did not actively support the war and are not under contract with the army or national security agencies, will be allowed compete, under a neutral banner.

And Bilodid said she would “accept” to fight Russians if drawn against them.

“Our minister let us fight, so I’d accept,” she said. “Of course, I have even more of a desire to win against them.”

The 2018 and 2019 world champion and Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist in -48kg, Bilodid now competes in the -57kg category.

Standing 1.72 meters, Bilodid makes her height count in her new category, but insists her character is her greatest asset.

“I think maybe the most important thing is what is inside me, my character, my spirit, I think this is my main strength,” she said. “It’s mental, it’s my mind, I have a strong spirit. I think the spirit of a champion and I want to win all competitions, I want to be the best.”

Despite the war, Bilodid continues to live in Kyiv, even if “it is not easy to train” every day, after a spell in Valencia, Spain after the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

With the flag of Ukraine embroidered over her heart on her blue kimono, Bilodid said: “People are very tired of the war. Sometimes rockets continue to fall. Nobody knows what will happen. It’s difficult but in a way we got used to it and we continue training.”

But the daughter of 2005 men’s world judo medallist Gennadiy Bilodid, has a clear objective this year: “To hear in Paris the Ukrainian anthem would be one of the greatest emotions.”

© 2024 AFP