When Hungarian-born Szandra Szogedi stepped onto the judo mat at the Rio Olympics on Tuesday, she made history for Ghana.
Szogedi became the first-ever female judoka to represent the African nation, after obtaining citizenship through her Ghanaian husband. The fight draw, however, was not kind: Szogedi’s first fight was against Brazilian Mariana Silva. Szogedi and her coach knew it would be a tricky fight in front of a partisan crowd and in preparation, had focused on refining Szogedi’s attacking style.
Although Szogedi relentlessly attempted to grip Silva’s uniform, she got caught in a stranglehold after Silva took her to the ground. Szogedi was determined not to submit, until she started to lose her vision.
“I felt like I was going to pass out and then I had to tap,” she said. A tearful Szogedi said afterward that training four years for less than two minutes on the mat was devastating. “I’m just really gutted that I made a mistake and now it is all over.”
Judoka frequently say that anything can happen in their combat sport and that it’s not uncommon for Olympic and world champions to be literally tossed out of the competition in the preliminary rounds. Szogedi chalks that up to the incredible amount of focus needed in the martial art, where there are countless ways to attack.
“You might be focusing on gripping but if you’re not paying attention the next thing you know they can catch you in some other technique and it might be all over,” she said. “That’s just how judo is.”
After qualifying for Rio, Szogedi said she had a clear target of taking home a medal and wasn’t sure she would be up for the Tokyo Games. After the disappointment on Tuesday, however, Szogedi said she may have to reconsider her plans.
“Being up there on the mat at the Olympics was priceless,” she said. “Athletes are greedy. That minute and a half after all the years of training wasn’t enough.”
Szogedi’s opponent, Silva, advanced to the semifinals, giving Brazil its second shot at a judo gold medal in as many days. Silva will face top-ranked Slovenian Tina Trstenjak later on Tuesday.