“My dream was shattered suddenly”, the bitterness of Julia Tolofua excluded from the 2024 Olympics

Present at the Étoiles du Sport in Tignes, the judoka spoke about her non-selection for Paris 2024, and her immense bitterness in the face of a decision and timing that she does not understand.

Our special correspondent in Tignes

Julia, are you doing a little better than since the announcement of your non-selection for the Paris 2024 Games?
Julia Tolofua: To be honest, it’s going very average. The announcement is still very difficult to get through.

Can you tell us how it happened?
We were sent an email to get together regarding this announcement. This email did not stipulate that it was obligatory and it turns out that I had other very important appointments at the same time. As I was given to understand that the selection in my category (+78kg) would be decided in February – which I was not the only one to believe –, I did not go and I gave priority to my other appointments. But during these, I received three calls from my coach, then a text from Romane who said to me: “I’m sorry Ju”. There, I don’t understand anything and I wonder what’s going on. So, I put my other appointments aside to call my trainer, who tells me that the selection has just been made and that they have decided to select Romane in my category. I was stunned, very sad, frustrated… But then I tried to hide my emotions to express my incomprehension to my coach, who told me that the selection committee had considered having enough arguments to choose Romane from now on . And I still don’t understand this sentence, I’m stuck. My dream was suddenly shattered, when I thought I had my card until the Grand Slam in Paris in February, as I had been told. I took a huge slap.

When you say that you don’t understand, you’re talking about timing because on paper, at the moment, Romane o is world number 1 and recent European champion, so her selection seems logical?
Yes, Romane is world number 1 and I am number 9 (in the Olympic rankings because otherwise, Julia is 5e). But there was a time when I was 2e and she 3e. Afterwards, unfortunately, I injured my shoulder and inevitably, I went down in the ranking. But as you say, in terms of timing, I was ured that the choice would be made after Paris, or even later. For my part, I focused on Paris. But to see that the selection has finally been announced now, it’s in my throat.

Do you think this is an injustice?
For me, yes, it’s unfair. We are just pawns. To take up the words of the president of our federation who affirms that Romane has been European champion so many times, that she will make the Marseillaise resonate, yes, okay. But for my part, since 2021, I have also been flawless, I am very consistent, I have already made the Marseillaise resonate in Grand Slam. I also fought with a shoulder that is only at 70% of its capacity and all I asked was to be given a chance to play my card. I think I deserved more consideration, because I never stood around twiddling my thumbs while Romane played the Marseillaise, as he suggests. And if the decision was already made, then why did you give me hope? I find that a bit… I can’t find the exact word, but the president spent his time contradicting himself. He says I made something up, even though it’s not true, they’re the ones who let me believe it.

Were you able to discuss it with Frédérique Jossinet, who chaired the selection committee, or other members of the staff?
I had no one except Christophe Messina (in charge of the French women’s team) who warned me of my non-selection and Séverine Vandenhende, my former coach, who wrote to me. I wrote to the president during the night from Saturday to Sunday and I am still waiting for a response. It is still supposed to be accessible for its athletes who bring home medals.

This announcement comes in a climate where several athletes had already complained about the way in which selections were made and communicated…
Yes, Blandine (Pont) for example learned of her non-selection for the last European Championships in a parking lot. For me, there is a real problem of consideration of athletes, of communication… They ask us for professionalism and that’s it… We are only waiting for one thing, and that is this announcement, so do it well! It’s not difficult to understand that we train very hard for four years in order to bring home a medal and for them, it’s as if with a snap of their fingers, they have already made their choice. And it’s so disappointing for us to see this in a federation as important as ours.

When you heard this news, did you want to put the kimono away for good?
Yes, and on the other hand, I tried to tell myself that there were other great deadlines to come. But… (She breaks down) I’m sorry, it’s very hard…

During the next deadlines, by performing well, you could prove them that they were wrong…
Yes, that’s clearly why my kimono isn’t in the closet. Now, it’s so complicated to refocus on other competitions when you were dreaming of the Games in Paris. It takes time to digest. This was announced so early. They say they want to pay attention to our minds and ultimately, they are the ones who destroy it.

No one within the federation has offered to support you psychologically…
Let me be clear on this: no. They say that those not selected immediately received a call to offer them psychological follow-up and I had to wait three days to get it. Except that this did not come from the federation, but from the intelligence of my doctor who took the upper hand. The federation didn’t offer me anything, only my doctor suggested a psychologist he knows.

There is still the possibility of taking on the role of reservist for the Games…
Once again, it’s complicated to say that now. They had time to communicate the list. And I don’t wish harm on anyone. Whereas here, by communicating so early, it still destroyed me. From now on, I should hope for Romane’s injury? However, after my shoulder operation, I asked them a simple question: if Romane is European champion, will she be the one to make the Games? To which I was told: “You know Julia, we can’t get ahead of ourselves like that…” However, it wasn’t difficult to be honest with me.

Have they made their decision now to avoid a headache if you win the Paris Grand Slam?
Maybe…I’ll never know.

And what is even more unfortunate is that you maintain healthy competition with Romane o?
Yes, very healthy. She was even the first to message me. She also didn’t expect the decision to come now. Some people believe that competition is no longer going to be so healthy anymore, but that has nothing to do with it. We thought we were going to compete and compete in Paris in February to earn our place at the Games. And it would have been cleaner if it played out like that. I don’t understand the decision.

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