Romain Valadier-Picard: “Judo, a sport founded on respect and mutual support.”

Tuesday, 26 september 2023

Romain Valadier-Picard, a judoka supported by DNCA Finance, won another Grand Slam medal in Baku. This Junior European Champion is hoping to compete in the Olympic Games Paris 2024. He agreed to give us the following interview.

Romain Valadier-Picard (21), supported by DNCA Finance, an affiliate of Natixis Investment Managers, is one of the great hopes of French judo… but he competes in the extremely combative extra-lightweight category (under 60 kilos).  

You’ve just returned from Baku (Azerbaijan) where you won a Grand Slam medal – bronze – after beating three world champions. Does this mean that you’re now achieving high-level results on a regular basis? 

It’s obviously satisfying because it means I’ve passed a turning point in my career. I’m beating opponents who are world champions… but I’ve still got a lot of work to do because, although I’ve won fights, I haven’t done so in the best of ways. I’ve been winning thanks to Shido calls or warnings to the opponent. I’d prefer to win by knocking down my opponents. 

Is this another step forward in your young career? 

Yes, I’ve gained experience, I’ve passed a number of milestones, which is satisfying… It’s showing me the way ahead but I still have a long way to go. The European Championships will be held in Montpellier in southern France at the beginning of November. It will be a very important event and absolutely crucial for the Olympic selection. 

How did you get into judo?  

I used to play tennis in Vincennes, east of Paris, when I was young, but we then moved to Boulogne Billancourt in the suburbs west of Paris. There wasn’t any room for new players at the Boulogne Tennis Club and my mother was adamant that I should do sport, so she signed me up for judo… I made some good friends at the club and I liked winning, and I never looked back. But I didn’t set out to do high-level sport. That wasn’t the plan. 

Did you continue your studies at the same time as pursuing your sporting career? 

I was pretty good at school and my mother definitely didn’t want me to stop my studies. So I joined a sports studies school in Boulogne, where I passed my scientific baccalaureate with flying colors. After high school, the Covid pandemic struck and I entered the INSEP training institute… From there, I entered the ESILV, a post-baccalaureate school of engineering. I did my first three years in the normal curriculum but decided to split my 4th year specializing in biotech over a longer period to give me time to qualify for Paris 2024. 

Do you manage to pursue both goals at the same time?  

It’s not easy to do everything at once. As all my courses are filmed, my school allows me to follow them in video replay…  

Could you describe a typical day? 

I do my schoolwork from 8am to 10am. At 10, I go to training until 1pm/1:30pm. I have lunch either at the INSEP or at home. I work from 2pm to 4:30pm and then go to my 2nd training session, which makes for a very full day. I don’t stop for a single minute, but it’s good to have something to do other than sport. And it’s reassuring to feel I’m preparing for a future after judo. There’s more to life than just sport. When you play high-level sport, you’re trapped in a bubble, but studying enables you to come face-to-face with real life. 

You prepare your own meals but you’re in a weight category sport, so you have to monitor how much you weigh. How do you manage this? Do you have a dietitian? 

No, I take care of it all myself. It’s not that difficult to eat a balanced diet, and it’s less expensive than eating junk food. In the evening, I don’t eat any carbohydrates, and at lunchtime I make myself pasta and fat-free chicken… It’s not a big deal. It just takes a little time, especially with the shopping, but my mother helps me. She stocks up the fridge…  

Your mother seems to have played an important role in your career… 

It’s a good thing she’s there for me. She plays a very important role in the process. She’s always supported me, and it’s thanks to her that I’ve been able to pursue my twin objectives. She’s contributed to my success. 

What’s your favorite sporting memory? 

My two major memories are, firstly, the medal I won at the Junior European Championships… I was proud of myself, which is something that rarely happens. And the second memory is the medal I won in Paris in the 2021 Grand Slam, in the senior category! What’s more, my father was watching from the stands, which is a rare occurrence… 

Who’s your favorite champion and source of inspiration? 

There’s no one in particular who inspires me. I draw inspiration from all over the place, but I stick with my predetermined plan. “Hard work always pays off…” 

What’s your strong point? 

In life as in judo, I’m a very hard worker. I never give up, I’m very determined. I don’t just want things, I make them happen. In judo, I’m super-strict. During a bout, I adopt a particular line of conduct and, no matter what happens, I stick to it. I impose my own judo style and I don’t adapt to the other guy. 

And what do you do when in doubt? 

For a long time, I found it hard to admit that I wasn’t going to succeed. I try not to doubt, because doubt breeds more doubt… But, more recently, I’ve distanced myself from judo just a little bit. If I lose a competition, my family will still be there, life goes on… Judo is part of my life, but it’s not my whole life. It’s paradoxical when your entire life revolves around judo, with two training sessions a day and so on. But you have to put things into perspective, even if you devote your whole life to it. 

How do you see yourself in twenty years’ time? 

I’ll still be interested in judo, but my dream is to work in research, in development linked to sport and the human body, in new technologies to help patients. For me, that would be a great opportunity. A different dream from being an Olympic champion. 

What do the Olympic Games Paris 2024 represent for your career? 

For a long time, when I was young, it was just a dream. But today, why not? The Federation has put me in the race to qualify. I’m at a good point in my sporting career… So what was just a dream has become a little more attainable. I say to myself: why not me? I work every day to be selected. And all this hard work won’t be wasted even if I fail to qualify; it’ll make me more experienced for future events. 

How does an athlete prepare for the Olympic Games in Paris? And is it really a special event compared to other competitions? 

The Olympic Games are always the Olympic Games, wherever they’re held. But the fact that they’re being held in Paris adds an extra sparkle. Even so, I’d still be training just as hard if they were being held in London. As it is, it’s just that much more satisfying that they’re taking place in Paris. 

Do you have other passions besides judo? 

I go kitesurfing, windsurfing, and surfing, I play tennis and squash. I really love all kinds of sports! 

What do you like about your discipline and why is it so special? 

The cardinal value in judo is respect: respect for your opponent, for yourself, for your coach… It’s also an individual sport, but you can’t go it alone. It’s a sport founded on respect and mutual support. 

How important is it to have the support of a partner like DNCA Finance, an affiliate of Natixis Investment Managers? 

Judo isn’t a professional sport; you train twice a day, which prevents you from working. So this financial support is essential, it enables us to pay for our everyday expenses. And, in my particular case, I’m planning to continue my studies after graduating from my school of engineering. This support will enable me to prepare a thesis and continue judo at the same time…