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Sergei Aschwanden at the Olympic gates

The Swiss judoka, Sergei Aschwanden, won a silver medal during the recent world judo championships.

The athlete from canton Vaud is now hoping to go for gold at the next Olympic Games in 2004.

Beaten by the German Florian Wanner during the final in the under-81-kilogrammes category, Aschwanden no longer regrets missing out on gold in Osaka.

Instead, he has channelled his disappointment towards a new goal – of excelling on the Olympic tatami in Athens next year.

In fact, he has made this the principle target of his entire career.

With a career on a constant upcurve since 2000, the Swiss athlete is the current driving force behind judo in Switzerland.

Aschwanden won two European titles in 2000 and 2003, he was awarded the bronze medal during the world championships in 2001 and the silver medal in 2003.

If he adds an Olympic medal to his collection, he would become the Swiss judoka with the most accolades.

swissinfo went to meet the champion on a sunny day in Magglingen, canton Bern.

swissinfo: After Osaka, how did you view your silver medal?

Sergei Aschwanden: Just after the fight, I was totally depressed because I had not fought on my real level. I had to deal with that and accept it.

But, after some thought, I began to savour my achievement and I think that it is worth more than the gold.

I had some very difficult moments this year [including two serious injuries and nearly six months without training] and thought I would not make the grade in Japan.

Also, losing the final allowed me to get to know myself better and to find out where I had to make progress.

I have analysed my mistakes and I am sure that I won’t make them again. The remaining frustration from this defeat will increase my motivation tenfold for Athens.

swissinfo: Is Athens really the ultimate goal of your career?

S.A.: Yes, I have been preparing for this event for about seven years. The Olympic games in Sydney took place a bit too early in my career – I was eliminated in the first round by the future bronze-medallist.

But thanks to coming second in Osaka, I have already earned my ticket to Greece. I can now calmly prepare for the day of reckoning.

In a year, I hope to be able to evolve in the way I practise judo and to grow personally.

swissinfo: For you, are judo and your personal life linked?

S.A.: My life is judo and judo is my life. I eat, drink, sleep judo! With this state of mind and the challenges that are on offer to me, I am capable of surpassing my limits.

With hindsight, I know that I have evolved as much as a person as an athlete thanks to the challenges of judo. I know myself better.

swissinfo: Your father comes from canton Uri and your mother is Kenyan.

Their pairing has definitely influenced and continues to influence the way I am. My father has given me the work ethic. And thanks to the African roots of my mother, I have the ability to observe things with a bit of distance.

My parents supported me for a long time morally and financially. My family network and those closest to me [such as national trainer, Léo Held and manager Alberto Manca] are those that count most to me.

I know that these people love me and that they look on me the same way regardless of my performance.

Today, thanks to my private sponsors, the Swiss Judo Federation and the Swiss Olympic Association, I might be independent but I still need the advice and presence of those who are closest to me.

swissinfo: Is it easy to be a top level athlete in Switzerland?

S.A.: I would say yes, even if financially it can be complicated. And sometimes, it can be too easy. The Swiss live in a protected environment, everything is safe.

However, the peculiarity of doing sports at this level is that you never know what the future holds. It is a jungle – either you eat or are eaten. It took me some time to dare to jump into the unknown, to tame and control my feeling of insecurity.

But stress and fear can be positive – that is true of judo. Before stepping onto the tatami, I am nervous. But thanks to these components, an athlete can be sublime and give a great performance.

swissinfo: How do you view your future? Will the Athens Olympics be your last?

It is too early to say. That will depend on my health, my performance and my desire to continue. I could still be fighting until 2008. But I will decide that after Athens.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

The Swiss judoka, Sergei Aschwanden, won a silver medal at the world judo championships in Osaka in September.
He was participating in the under-81 kilogrammes category.
The athlete from canton Vaud wants to win a medal at the next Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

Sergei Aschwanden was born on December 22, 1975 in Bern.

After spending seven years in the capital, he moved to Bussigny, canton Vaud.

He started judo at the age of seven and was a brown belt by the time he was 12 years’ old.

As a child, he perfected his technique by practising with adults.

After finishing school in 1997, he decided to turn professional.

In 2000, he won his first European title.

In 2003, he won a silver medal at the world judo championships in Japan.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR