Daria Bilodid on breaking stereotypes in judo: 'It's not only a male sport'

The 20-year-old 'Judo Queen' opens up in an intimate interview about the strong bond with her parents, the importance of modesty, and why it's normal for a girl to compete in judo.

By Alessandro Poggi

Daria Bilodid has judo in her blood.

Her parents were former judokas (her dad Gennadiy won two European titles in the -73kg class) and thanks to them she fell in love with the sport.

"They passed me the genes," the 20-year-old admitted in an Olympic Channel exclusive interview.

They've been coaching Daria since she was a child, and they travel with her everywhere:

"My parents are present at every competition I go to, because they train me and we keep together all the time.

"What do they tell me? They support me, they set me in the right mood, they tell me that I am the strongest and that I can beat any opponent."

For Bilodid, who is top of the -48kg world rankings, that support was surely crucial when preparing to compete in the -52kg weight class for the Grand Slam Hungary in Budapest, the first World Tour event since tournaments were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Judo Queen remaining humble

The Bilodids were recently named best coaches in Ukraine.

Mum Svetlana is on her daughter's corner at every bout:

"Mum is the most important critic", the two-time world champion said.

"That's certainly a good thing. Sometimes it can be hurtful, but I ask my mother and she certainly tells me the truth. I mean, if it's good, it's good, if it's bad she says everything to my face and I thank her for that. Of course this criticism makes me better."

"Usually, when I step on the tatami with my mum, I have to definitely kiss her a few times. This is one of my superstitions." - Daria Bilodid to Olympic Channel

The influence of her parents goes beyond judo.

Daria learned from them important values such as respect and modesty.

"I believe that even if you're a great champion and you won and achieved a lot of things, you still have to remain a humble person.

"It's very important to me. I always ask my family how I behave, 'Do I act okay? Do I act modestly?'

"Maybe I won't notice and will act somehow arrogantly. I have great respect for people who behave modestly."

Daria Bilodid celebrates her first world title at the 2018 World Championships in Baku. CREDIT: Gabriela Sabau (IJF)

A strong woman

In 2019, at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Bilodid became the youngest judoka to win two consecutive world titles.

The sport has also shaped her, both as an athlete and a person:

"My character was developed through judo, and many qualities I acquired from judo really help me in life.

"I learned to be strong, unstoppable, but also concentrated on my craft."

A determination and focus that are not affected by stereotypes and prejudices surrounding women in combat sports.

"I've never tried to fight stereotypes," she said.

"I just know for myself that if I'm doing judo it doesn't mean that it's only a male sport. And I don't think I'm supposed to look like a man or something.

"I know very well that outside of judo I can be girly and feminine. Many people think that, if a girl is doing judo, she should be super muscled with a figure that is not good looking. It's not true.

"I know it for myself and I don't want to prove anything to anyone."

"It's absolutely normal when a woman or a girl is practicing judo. I think it's only a plus for her figure, for her development but also for everything." - Daria Bilodid