At 33, Audrey Tcheuméo is enjoying a second youth. After a long black hole, the French judoka, who enters the running Friday at the Doha Worlds, is back at the right time in the race for the Olympic Games-2024.
“In recent years, I was not at the top of my form. I was not at the level, it was a total black hole”, tells AFP the judoka with the piercing gaze, who no longer trod a global tatami since 2018.
But for the past few months, the native of Bondy seems to be reborn, as evidenced by her second place at the Masters at the end of 2022 and her two Grand Slam victories at the start of the year, in Paris then in Antalya (Turkey).
“I am a phoenix!”, she launched after her title in Paris. “It’s my nature. I always have this rage to win and this relentlessness.”
“The victory in Paris did me good,” she continues. “It was nice. Winning at home is always a hit, it was fun. It motivates, you gain confidence, you feel like you’re growing wings. It really boosted me for the rest of the season (…). Coming back like this is a good start to a comeback.”
“It’s an example”
Arrived in the France team 13 years ago, Tcheuméo had started her career with a bang by being crowned world champion at 21, when she had only started judo barely seven years earlier.
She then confirmed with two world medals in 2013 and 2014 and above all an Olympic vice-champion title in Rio in 2016.
But the rise of Madeleine Malonga in her -78 kg category then relegated her to the rank of French N.2 and deprived her of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
“It was hard,” she admits. “But I expected it, it was not a surprise. It was hard to see the others fight but it’s a blessing in disguise, I fed on that to attack Paris-2024.”
A state of mind and longevity that arouses admiration among the Blues. “Her first world championship, she did it in 2010! Until 2018, she was N.1, she was passed by Madeleine Malonga at the Tokyo Olympics and there she took over the + lead + of the category”, describes his coach in the France team, Christophe Massina. “It’s quite exceptional anyway!”
The feeling is the same for her teammate Julia Tolofua (+78 kg): “Audrey is someone I respect a lot. When I was younger, she was a girl who already inspired me when I I was in the France pole in Marseille. It’s an example, she was a little put on the side and, suddenly, she explodes, she comes back, she bombs everything”, she appreciates.
“The ultimate goal”
These years of ups and downs, Audrey Tcheuméo likes to put them at the service of the collective, from the height of her status as the oldest member of the France group. “It’s true that she’s already the oldest!”, smiles Tolofua, eight years her junior.
“I try to help the new generation as much as I can,” testifies the person concerned. “I like to transmit and share my experience. Romane (Dicko) and Shrine (Boukli), they are babies! There was a good feeling and I try to be there for certain people and for the group is doing well.”
In the race for the Paris Olympics, she will have to face competition from Madeleine Malonga who, after having taken her time to digest the previous Olympiad, returns to her best level, even that of Chloé Buttigieg, finalist at the Grand Slam of Paris. .
“That’s judo,” she philosophizes. “You have to try to stand out, it’s a big category, you have to fight.” In this perspective, “Doha will be a test, a lesson to move towards the ultimate goal”, she promises.