Judoka are happy with their sisters and brothers because in the time of Covid-19, you will need the family to stay in shape. Ghofran Khelifi is very fortunate with her sister Mariem, also part of the Tunisian national team. Together they can train. Ghofran impressed so far this year and should have defended her African title in this period. Now she is making plans to set her long term goals. JudoCrazy’s Oon Yeoh spoke to the Tunisian talent.
JIC: Is Ghofran a common girl’s name in Tunisia?
GK: It’s quite common and can be used for both genders, actually. Ghofran means “forgiveness” and I guess it’s an apt name for me because I am very forgiving, sometimes overly so and people end up taking advantage of that. My friends usually call me Ghofy.
JIC: Can you tell us a bit about judo in Tunisia?
GK: A lot of kids do judo but not so many adults. Usually the only adults who are doing judo are competitors. There’s not so much recreational judo for adults going on here.
JIC: How’s the Covid-19 situation in your country?
GK: The situation is stable for now. The government said the worst is over and the lock-down should be lifted by May 3.
JIC: How are you coping with the lock-down?
GK: Well, of course I wish I could do judo but I know we have to stay home for everybody’s safety, so I try to stay busy at home. I’m fortunate in that I have a younger sister, Mariem, who is also a judoka. In fact, she’s also a member of the national team. So, we are able to do some judo training together.
JIC: How was your training like before the lock-down?
GK: Right now, I’m at home but before the lock-down I was staying at the national team centre in the capital, which is two hours from home. I used to train twice a day there, for three hours each time.
JIC: Is judo popular among girls in Tunisia?
GK: No, not really. I think it’s because judo is seen as a rough and masculine sport so many girls shy away from it.
JIC: What made your parents decide to send you for judo then?
GK: I was hyperactive as a child and judo really was the only option for me. Ha… ha… But my parents are very happy with my judo progress and they are my No. 1 supporters.
JIC: Given the lack of girls in judo, do you have enough high-level female randori partners?
GK: Not enough, to be honest. So, we focus on technical work and strength training.
JIC: Are you only training in judo or do you study or work, as well?
GK: I am a student of a sports university. Right now, I’m doing most of my coursework online
JIC: Are your judo activities funded corporate sponsors or the government?
GK: I’m not sponsored by any companies. The government pays for everything: food, lodging, training. They also give us a small allowance.
JIC: What about for overseas competitions?
GK: Normally the government will pay for this but my last two competitions were sponsored by the IJF. I'm very grateful to them for that.
JIC: What are your favourite techniques?
GK: My main technique is left-sided uchimata. I love this technique because it involves a mix of flexibility, strength and balance. As for groundwork, I’m not really into newaza but I have won with strangles before.
JIC: Do you have any uchimata heroes?
GK: I’m a fan of all uchimata specialists but I would say Maruyama at -66kg is especially impressive.
JIC: Any techniques you’d like to do but have difficulty mastering?
GK: I’d like to be able to do ippon-seoi-nage to the right. I’ve been trying this for years but I can’t seem to get it to work for me.
JIC: Did you develop the drop kata-guruma as an alternative?
GK: In a way yes because all my other throws are left-sided throws and I needed at least one throw where I could throw uke towards her right.
JIC: What do you like most about competing?
GK: I just like to fight, really. I guess I’m naturally quite an aggressive person, have been since young, so judo is an ideal sport for me.
JIC: How well do you cope with defeat?
GK: Whether I win or lose a fight, what’s important is that I did my best. As long as I feel I did my best, I can accept it if I lose. I’ll take it to mean I’ve just go to work harder for better results.
JIC: You’re 21 now and no longer in the juniors. How do you feel about fighting in the seniors?
GK: I welcome it. It’s more challenging of course but to me if you want to prove that you are good, you must be able to produce results at the senior level.
JIC: You did very well at the 2020 Dusseldorf Grand Slam, defeating two very experienced players, Sabrina Filzmoser and Hedvig Karakas. How did it feel fighting these two?
GK: It was a good day for me and it felt amazing fighting them. It definitely boosted my confidence being able to overcome such capable players.
JIC: You also gave Sumiya Dorjsuren a hard time, taking her into Golden Score. Although you didn’t win that one, are you satisfied with your performance?
GK: It was a tough fight, a close fight and I actually thought I could win, especially after she got her second shido. But I got caught by her seoi-nage. I would say I was happy with my performance but I'm not satisfied with it.
JIC: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
GK: My short-term goal is to win the African Championships again. It will be held in December. And my long-term goal would be the Olympics next summer.
JIC: Do you feel you’ve sacrificed a lot for judo?
GK: Sometimes yes because I left my family at the age of 15 to do judo. In my culture that's a young age for a girl to be living alone. Also, in order to be able to do judo like I do — basically full-time training — I’ve had to take up sports science rather than some other subject. But as they say, great success requires great sacrifice.
JIC: What would you like to study if you weren’t doing judo?
GK: Psychology. It’s so fascinating to me. Maybe I’ll do this after my competition career is over. Right now, my priority is judo.
JIC: How would you describe what judo is to you?
GK: It’s my life, it’s the blood in my veins.
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The U57kg category will take place at the third day of the Olympic Games at 25 July 2021.