Judo is an infamous sport in India and it is still searching for a lending hand to lift it up to the level of other renowned sports. The Judo Federation of India is doing a good job says Suchika Tariyal who just finished her Commonwealth Games assignment. Two of India’s many judokas reached the final of their event but could not bring the first-ever gold medal for India in judo and the reason, as Suchika explains to SportsTiger, is the added pressure on the athletes.
The 31-year-old who reached the quarterfinals in the Women’s 57kg category says that Indian judokas still need to improve a lot when it comes to their temperament and technique and also promised a medal at the Asian Championships due in October this year. Tulika Maan, the silver medalist for India in the Women’s +78kg category also made a guest appearance and explained the rich experience she gained from her CWG stint.
Maan also explained that she is not the same person off the mat as she loves fooling around with her teammates. The two judokas then signed off with a promise to bring the first gold medal for India when they take the mat in the next CWG.
Q. You just finished your assignment at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. So, how does it feel to represent your country at the highest level?
It feels great. I represented the country at such a level for the first time and I felt amazing.
Q. You performed really well throughout the tournament. But unfortunately, you missed a medal. How does it feel?
I gave my 100 percent but fumbled a bit at the end. You can call it bad luck or anything but it happens. In those moments, you can’t decide if you want to be aggressive or defensive. The game moves at a certain pace. Anything could have happened there, any one of the two could have won the point. But unfortunately, I lost a point there. So, yes, it feels bad. I don’t know if it was the added pressure or what was the reason, it was so sudden.
Q. Exactly, I wanted to ask the same thing. Did you feel the added pressure as you were going for a medal there?
Yes, I felt it (pressure) a bit.
Q. Judo has been a part of the Commonwealth Games since 1986 but India has won only eight medals. A gold medal is yet to come in this sport. So, what do you think is the reason behind this? Are our judokas not well equipped or trained?
It’s nothing like that. We have good coaches as well as good players. It’s just that we are not getting the result. Two of our girls won the silver medal. As I said earlier, it’s a bit difficult to keep up with the pace of the game. Things happen spontaneously. So, I think we need to catch up there and correct our mistakes. Maybe we are lacking a bit but we will get up there soon.
Q. When Tulika was playing in the final against Sarah Adlington, there was constant chat about her being too defensive. The commentators were constantly saying that the Indian judoka is not attacking enough.
Actually, Tulika’s game is mainly a counterattack. She won the semi-finals with the same strategy. So, I think she was waiting for her turn to counterattack (against Sarah). Sometimes it happens that the players get in an awkward position (the grip and all) and concede points while trying to counterattack. There are comparatively lesser movements in the heavyweight category. Also, maybe Tulika was a bit underweight for the category as she earlier used to compete in 78kg and she fought in +78kg at the 2022 CWG. And on the experience front as well, Tulika was behind.
Q. So, as you were saying that players have different kinds of games, attacking or counterattacking. What’s your approach generally?
You have a mixture of both. It depends on the players. Like in the bronze medal match, I missed a leg while counterattacking and the opponent got a point. So, I play both ways.
Q. As you mentioned above, there is a pressure factor for Indian judokas. So, what do you suggest the Judo Federation should do to bring that factor into training?
We went to Spain for training and the weather there was really good. Like it suited our game. But when we returned to India, it was so hot here. Again, in England, it was a bit on the cooler side. So, if we could have gone earlier, maybe we could have adapted to the conditions better.
It’s not that we didn’t train. We had good training in Spain. There were camps arranged for us in India as well. But the problem is that we are short of partners. There are really few players in this sport. There are junior players but they are still in the learning phase. For example, we only had six players to train with at the camp. So, there should be at least four good players to train with.
Vijay Yadav, who won the bronze medal, had his partners called up from SAI Bhopal. We also trained with those boys. Deepak also had a few partners from Delhi. So, I think we need more partners to train with to improve our game. Judo is still not so famous in India. Youngsters should be encouraged to take up the sport as more players will mean more competition which will be better for everyone.
Q. Judo is not so famous in India so how did you turn towards it? When do you decide that this will be your profession or do you want to play at a higher level?
I was fond of fighting games from my childhood days. Also, I used to have short hair back then. So, once I was at the salon and the barber touched me inappropriately. I didn’t know about good touch or bad touch then but it felt inappropriate. Then I realized that if I knew martial arts or anything of that sort, I would be able to fight. I was more inclined towards boxing but my mother was a bit worried that I would break my nose (laughs). So, she put me in Judo.
I also developed an interest in the sport slowly and also won medals at the state level. I also felt a sense of security that if anyone does anything inappropriate now, I will be able to defend myself. So, I started the game as a self-defense tool. But as I started doing well and won medals at different levels. I also got to know about the international level. I upped my level slowly and steadily.
I come from a background where not a lot of people have reached this level. So, there was very little knowledge about the game. We used to watch on TV these Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games, and Asian Games and gathered knowledge about them.
Q. What were the problems you faced in your journey?
When I started playing the game, there were not so many girls. Only boys use to play Judo. It was tough to compete with them as they were really good. But we had Vikram (Solanki) bhaiya and Yashpal (Solanki) bhaiya to whom we looked at and dreamed of playing like them. They also used to support us. But they had given up the sport then. Nevertheless, we used to go to training at different places where there were more girls as playing with boys was a bit uncomfortable for us.
I started playing for Palam and then met Vikram bhaiya who is also my coach now. I got off track for some time as I got into a job. But if you join through sports quota you have to play that sport. The problem then was that when I had the game, I didn’t have money but now when I had money, the game was gone. Also, there was a lack of awareness as to how to proceed. But thankfully, I had Vikram bhaiya who guided me.
Rest it was all those small struggles where you just get up with no money or very little money. Traveled ticketless in trains, fought in competitions empty stomachs, and all such small struggles.
Q. Who was your idol either at the international or the national level?
My idol is Vikram (Solanki) bhaiya. He is so focused and determined. He gets what he wants. So, I want to become like him one day.
Tulika Maan makes a guest appearance
Q. Congratulations Tulika. You won the Silver medal. So, how was the experience fighting Sarah Adlington?
It was really bad, to be honest. Felt like crying but we also have to understand that the world does not end there. We get to learn from every experience and I am also going back with a lot of it. We will try to correct our mistakes. Life does not stop here. There are a lot of things ahead of us. We have the Asian Games coming up and then there are the Olympics. So, we will try our best to win and hear the national anthem playing.
Q. Why so serious, always?
I am not that serious; my teammates know that. But we have to stay focused as per the demand of the game.
Q. Did you feel you were too defensive against Sarah?
Yes, I was waiting for here. She was way too heavy. I think she weighed around 126 and I had given my weight 91kg. So, the problem for me was that I could not imply quite a few techniques due to her heavy weight. So, I relied on my strength which is counterattacking. I don’t have faith in my other techniques as much as I have in counterattack. Also, I held a wrong grip in the final moments which cost me the game.
As didi said earlier, we had the same players in training. So, they knew about our techniques. But we also got to know a lot about them which helped us a lot. They are already experienced but for us, it was a really good experience.
Q. What message would you two leave for the parents of those girls who are trying to make a career in Judo?
Suchika: I just want to say to the parents that make your girls learn any form of martial art, not necessarily judo. So, they can defend themselves and live with their heads high. India is still a country where women are suppressed. So, encourage as much as possible. With god’s grace, I would also establish an academy for only girls so that they get to learn without any hesitation. I want Judo to excel as much as possible. So, I just want to request the parents that don’t stop your girls and let them do what they want to.