Andy Wheeler and JudoInside
Automne Paris had a glittering career with three European championship titles, two World Championships bronze medals, four Grand Prix’s, two Grand Slams and Olympic Bronze in London to her name. She surprises us on daily basis with her adventures with her daughter on social media and lives a happy live. We just wonder about one question, a now familiar question … “If you could live one day from your competitive judo life again, exactly as it happened, with no changes.
Automne Pavia: I think I’ll choose the day when I won the Paris Grand Slam for the first time in 2011. It was a crazy day. I woke up so motivated for that event.
I don’t think many athletes wake up the morning of a major tournament, and know in their heart of hearts they’re going to win it. With a few exceptions.
Hugely motivated I removed any stress and anxiety from my mind, wiped it clean and proceeded to fight.
Returning to the warm-up area after two quick wins in succession, it was a tough road to the Final.
Reaching the Final I was already satisfied before going out, I was happy to be there, in my home country in front of a vocal appreciative crowd. It was a surprise to be in the fight for Gold despite my earlier conviction.
That day in Bercy was like a dream
Dreams often turn to dust, one wrong move in a long day, throwing a spanner into a well oiled machine.
This was Bercy Stadium, the Paris Grand Slam, the best girls in the world were in attendance, still I thought I could win, I kept telling myself, ‘you can do this, you can prevail’
The Final against Aiko Sato of Japan would be no cakewalk. I’d met her before in the last 16 at the Grand Prix in Rotterdam, where she’d beaten me on her way to Gold, throwing me in ten seconds with a quick, slick De-ashi-barai without her hand in. I’d felt her at the training camp after the Tokyo Grand Slam, I knew she was strong. The stress I’d managed to quell bubbled to the surface again.
She was way more experienced than me, six years older with a plethora of Japanese Championship medals, they don’t grow on trees. She had many international victories including junior World Championship Gold. My apprehension thus far kept in check grew palpable.
As a young girl, my father had taken me to the Tournoi De Paris, it was a great memory. To be standing many years later, about to contend the final was beyond my wildest dreams as a youngster. It was everything.
She may have bested me in the past but I was determined not to let it happen again. On home soil, in front of friends and family. I was desperate to give a good showing, intent not to embarrass myself.
I calmed my nerves once more and the contest turned out to be amazing. I beat her in Golden score.
The crowd went nuts, the atmosphere incredible, as I took it all in I had to pinch myself. I revelled in it, the victory confirming in my mind that I’d made major steps, I could finally celebrate.
It was emotional, in bed that night I kept repeating to myself, ‘the Tournoi de Paris, I’ve done it, I’ve won it!’
Emotions on the podium
On the podium as La Marseillaise rang out, every Frenchman in the room joined chorus, it was a delirious occasion and I drank it all in.
I was still young, just turned 22 and for once I was content.
It wasn’t my first Grand Prix victory, I’d won in Tunis the year before but this was different.
This was Paris. I didn’t know how to behave as the flags ascended along with the voices.
I almost felt embarrassed, all of this attention directed towards me.
That evening I went back with my family to my own apartment, it was such a celebration, everyone was ecstatic. As I climbed into bed that night I was on cloud nine. The pent up emotions I’d suppressed all afternoon came flooding out.
I’d only gone and won it! For me this was the kickstart to my career. I’d had some previous results but they weren’t the same.
Beating Japan in the Final made it all the more special. For me Sato and Olympic Champion Kaori Matsumoto are outstanding judoka. Incredible athletes both, though fighting them was very different.
Sato was very small compared to me and not easy to fight, my height making me a good size to get under, a nice weight on her back. Fighting her I had to control from distance with my own judo.
With Matsumoto I can and must play my own game, force my own pace, though she fits better to my style of judo. With Matsumoto we can both attack a lot so it’s usually a great fight.
I push myself to the limits fighting her, still…. She always won. I went on to win the Paris Tournament again in 2013, again beating Japan in the Final, their strength in depth incredible.
I fought Anzu Yamamoto for Gold, no slouch she had a lightning Yoko tome nage. Once again I won, that victory in 2011 lighting the way forward.
My life as a top flight international, delivered many things for me, paramount of all is the friendships I made along the way.
Friends in judo
Friends I still see to this day include Clarisse Agbegnenou and Amandine Buchard.
Abroad it’s nice to be with friends who have children like Laura Gomez (ESP), Taciana Lima (GBS), Kana Ebinuma (JPN) and I keep up with Sally Conway (GBR) and Daria Bilodid (UKR) among others.
I like Instagram a lot and use it to post photos of my daughter and many athletes respond.
In November I went to Japan with my father’s Judo club and we saw Kaori Matsumoto. We always had a good relationship, despite many wars on the mat, we are friends and had fun off it.
That day in Paris, February 2011, taught me an important lesson. I’m stronger than I sometimes give myself credit for. Inside and out.
Above all things you must believe in yourself
Talent and hard work are all well and good but without desire, dedication and the determination to chase your goals, they amount to nothing.
Your castle stands, upon pillars of salt, pillars of sand.
Follow your dreams, after this day I did, which led to many more momentous occasions along the way.