Journalist: Marcel Rözer
2020 should have been the ultimate award for Judoka Juul Franssen. In the year she turned 30, it had to and wouldhave happened at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. So it all went differently, but one thing is certain, if the Games take place in 2021, an experienced top judoka will go to Japan. One who is fully motivated after a conflict with the judo union and after corona. A conversation with butcher's daughter and Federer-fan Juul Franssen.
In fact, anyone who is really interested in the phenomenon of 'top athlete' should keep asking when it comes to 'the trainer'. In reality, there is often a whole team behind it. For example, Juul Franssen has a head coach at Papendal and a couple of trainers in Rotterdam. My head coach is Jean Paul Bell. In Rotterdam I train with Ge van de Elshout and Chris de Korte. And my strength coach is Hans Kroon'. The last one in particular is worth a story. I never forget the first time I joined Hans. That was eleven years ago. I had heard all kinds of horror stories. OMG, I thought. Now I am probably going to throw up. Actually I came back from an elbow injury, but when Hans asked me if I had my sports gear with me, I didn't hesitate for a moment. Of course I had my gear with me. If I hadn't brought it with me, I would have been on -10 straight away. I entered the room like a little lamb. They were men and women mixed up. It was exactly what I needed. In Helmond, where I had been training for years, I was lonely at the top. Here I had the opportunity to learn, to get better. Definitely mentally as well.
That last part is of immense value, she knows like no other. When you train with Hans you go through the wall. After eleven years I still walk in with a nervous feeling. If I'm not sharp, I'm gonna be killed.' With that attitude she works every day. So if a fight ends in a draw, and there's a Golden Score, I am in the lead. Then I think: 'Fuck, I trained with Hans. I'm so fit that it's very difficult for them to win from me'.
She summarises this mental toughness as follows: 'We work with separate weights, so we don't just hang on to the machines. You can't say: I'm doing my back today. The whole body comes into play. You're squeezed and if you don't go through that wall with Hans, you don't go through that wall in a match'.
This is how Juul Franssen is at Olympic level in her sport. A sport which started with a trophy returning homewards. I was five and jealous. That's what I wanted too. There was an introduction and I was allowed to go with my brothers and sister. It was so much fun wrestling with each other on such a large mat.It was immediately my thing... Haha, and my parents were happy to have me out of the house once in a while! I was very energetic!
She started judoing against the boys. At first I won, but the physical difference became too big. Yet I was angry that there were no more boys in my group'. Later, when she did the sports academy, she understood that a lot of girls don't like to have a fight against boys. They were angry when I played a mixed game. And in 2020, you have to take it all into account. We have to take this safe sport environment seriously, although I think it's a bit of an exaggeration sometimes'.
Although it may seem that she did nothing but judo, she was indeed active on other 'fields' than the tatami. I practised gymnastics, swimming, athletics. But that didn't go hand-in-hand anymore. Nowadays I swim twice a week again, just for a change. On Sunday mornings I walk around the Kralingse Plas.
That broad motor development has done her good. I did it first of all because it's fun. But now that I'm a bit older and I'm watching other sports... Cyclists fall like little children. 'Chin on your chest', they've never heard of that. You're not going to change anything about the many falls, but perhaps with fall training they'll be able to break their fall better and therefore do less damage'.
Besides the fact that she sees it as a good idea to combine sports at a young age, she also believes that judo should be included in the basic package at primary schools. Just like swimming, you learn something that allows you to bring yourself to safety.
She is where she is now because of the decisions she made. One of them was moving from Helmond to Rotterdam - 'my husband at the time was surprised, but he went along because I wanted to'. She also refused to attend central training courses at Papendal, something the judo association wanted. Then I would have had to take a step back, I refused. I had to fight hard to keep training here, and I'm proud that I did.
And so she is preparing in Rotterdam North for what is to be her finest hour. Of course it would be a shame if I didn't take gold, but I have to put it into perspective or I'll drive myself crazy. Afterwards the sun simply rises again, you know. That's a cliché, I know. I believe that I must have done everything I could. And that involves me laying the foundations here in Rotterdam'.
That's why she calls her way of judo a Rotterdam way of doing things. You've always had two camps in the Netherlands. Rotterdam and Haarlem. Rotterdam is more technical, and Haarlem is more about quantity and making hard randoris. The Haarlem school is, say, Rafael Nadal and the Rotterdam school is Roger Federer. I prefer the Federer style. If you look around Papendal during the trainings you can see where the basis of the judoka in that particular area comes from'.
Let Roger Federer be her big idol'. When Federer is out of a tournament, I don't even look anymore. One day he lost to Djokovic and I cried. I would like to see him play tennis again, but I don't have time for that. Yes, it would be great if I met him at the Olympics'.
The programme of top athlete is full, as she experiences on a daily basis. But I see it in a broader context. A mother of four kids, that's also top-level sport. Or a working week of 70 hours'. The fact is she is almost always busy with judo. And with people who make her better. I witness how more and more things are happening online. Technogym has the Bio-circuit with a wellness key in which all information is stored. Based on measurements, they know exactly when to do what, at least that's what they tell you. For an entertaining workout that's fine as a top athlete, but sport specific I will need to have extra information in addition to that'.
She has discussions about it with sports scientists, with the technical director of the judo association. He wants us to measure everything, lactic acid, lactate and so on. Then they will see when I have passed my peak and need to rest. But when I am over a peak in a competition, I don't say: sorry, I have to stop. When I think of stopping at that limit, I never go through that wall again. That's why I love training here in Rotterdam, no nonsense. All those measurements, I don't need them'.
Take sleeping measurements. Normally I would sit between 44 and 48 pulse in the morning. On one occasion I had 54 and was supposedly overloaded. I would have walked with that in my head all day long. I started to judge my mood on the basis of my heartbeat. Nevertheless, my training often went very well. Sometimes the feeling doesn't match with what a meter indicates. I do think it's good to keep track of it, you just don't have to depend everything on it. Just keep thinking healthy.
She makes great sacrifices, it's in her genes. My mother and father worked very hard. He was a butcher. There wasn't much room for emotions in the family, but fortunately that has changed a bit. Yes, I also think I'm a hard worker. Technically I could go to my parents this weekend, but I need rest. They can always visit me, but sometimes I don't feel like it. It will take my energy, if they tell me something intense, it will get into my head. I am a family person, but I am also an egocentric athlete'.
Sometimes she thinks back to the time when she was not allowed to judo because of the conflict with the federation. In the end I won this case against the league and when I was allowed to do it again I had goose bumps. That adrenaline that releases when I go out on the pitch... Lovely. And when people say I miss so many things, I say: 'How cool that I' m flying all over the world in the bloom of my life to get the most out of myself. I think that's a privilege.'
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