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EXCLUSIVE: From javelin to judo, Kenya’s Zeddy Cherotich eyes medal at Olympic Games

Cabinet Secretary for Sports Ababu Namwamba
Cabinet Secretary for Sports Ababu NamwambaNOCK Media
Kenya’s sole judo representative Zeddy Cherotich (34) is relishing her first appearance at the Olympic Games and has promised to do everything she can to return home with a medal.

Cherotich will make history at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games set for July 26th to August 11th after becoming the first female to represent Kenya in judo at the summer games.

Cherotich, who will participate in the women’s Under 78kg category, stamped her ticket to Paris after ranking 74th with 384 points during the World Judo Championships held in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. between May 19th and 24th.

Her performance was within the continental quota of 12 in the women’s event. The International Judo Federation (IJF) further confirmed her participation in Paris in a letter to the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) stating she had qualified for the continental qualification after accumulating 384 points.

Cherotich narrates her journey from javelin to judo

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) sergeant was a javelin player before switching to judo. She had played javelin for almost 10 years before switching to judo.

“For the last 10 years, I used to play javelin, I used to play alongside the ‘YouTube Man’ Julius (Yego), I participated in so many events, but I have never represented the country in javelin, leave alone even playing for Kenya in Africa,” Cherotich told Flashsore.

But in 2021, I was on leave (from work) and I was training at my hood to keep fit, then I came across judo head coach Joseph (Momanyi), he spotted me training and told me ‘I looked a very hardworking person, I want to plead with you, we don’t have many women in judo, so I want you to come and join our judo women team.

At first, I hesitated because I always knew that judo was a game of many injuries, if you play you will get injured, I knew judo was not a good friendly sport, but he pleaded with me to come and try, because no one knows where his luck is.”

Cherotich explained after further thoughts, and having played javelin for more than 10 years without making a breakthrough, that she decided to switch to judo and it didn't take her much time to like the sport.

I changed my mind and started to train judo, it didn’t take me time to like the sport, and even now if you ask me the best sport, I will pick judo,” explained Cherotich.

“It is now clear and even many people know now that judo is a game for everybody, anyone can comfortably play judo, I also want to ask ladies outside there to take up the sport, don’t look at judo as a dangerous sport, one that injures someone, for you to win in any sport, there is nothing easy, you have to fight and sweat for victory, even if you go to athletics, rugby even volleyball, there is nothing easy, training is the same, and it is painful but if you love something, just go for it.”

However, Cherotich revealed how she had to persevere in training before becoming the darling of the sport.

If you persevere in training and your body absorbs training, then you will start to see the rewards, nothing is easy, starting from training you must be committed, do what your coach wants you to do, and stay focused, I assure you success will be your way.”

On being the first female judoka to represent Kenya at the Olympics, Cheroitich said: “I am the happiest woman; I am the happiest lady in Kenya.”

On her preparations for the Olympics, she said: “I have already tested the fruits of playing judo, no one tells me to wake up and go training every morning, I do it on my own, I push myself because I know what I want to achieve in life.

“If I didn’t push myself, I couldn’t be in the Olympic team, and I couldn’t have earned the ticket to represent my country in Paris, the coach gives you 20 percent but for an athlete, you must push yourself, and accomplish the remaining 80 percent, it needs dedication and perseverance, so every athlete, or every sport and woman, just go for what you want and you will achieve it.”

Cherotich vows to return home with a medal

Cherotich will debut on August 1st in the heavyweight category elimination round of 64 at Grand Palais Ephemere in Champ de Mars.

The number of judokas competing across fourteen different weight categories at the Games has been reduced from 393 in Tokyo 2020 to 372, with an equal distribution between men and women.

Despite the slight changes in athlete figures, the judo program for Paris 2024 remains constant from the previous editions, as the competition will feature an equal number of bodyweight classes for men and women, with seven each, and the return of the mixed team tournament.

Cherotich believes she has what it takes to make Kenyans proud. “I know everybody will be looking at me, being the first female judoka (to play in the Olympics), they will want to see how I perform, but I am ready, I want to assure Kenyans that I have trained well, I hope I get to Paris in good health,” offered Cherotich.

“Of course, there is the pressure that comes with your first appearance at such a global tournament, but my first target is to win my opening match, I want to do everything to win it, if I win then it will set a good stage for me, it will give me the platform to prepare well for the subsequent matches.”

For Cherotich to qualify for the Olympics, she kicked off her quest for a ticket during the African Senior Championships held last September where she managed a seventh finish and amassed 182 points.

She then travelled to Cairo, Egypt, for another tournament, finishing seventh and accumulating 182 points. The final qualifying competition was on May 19th in Abu Dhabi, where she collected 20 points.

I know it will not be easy in Paris, we have experienced judokas, especially from Japan, who have been and competed at this stage before, but it doesn’t scare me because I am going there also to compete, I don’t want to be a spectator, I want to there, compete and return home with a medal.”

The judo program will feature a total of fourteen bodyweight classes, seven each for both men and women. Regularly starting on the first day of the competition, a single men’s and women’s weight category will occur each day before the program concludes with the mixed team tournament on August 3rd.

Japan’s Shori Hamada won the gold medal in the women’s -78 kg category during the Tokyo Olympics after beating Madeleine Malonga of France in the final while the bronze medals went to Anna-Maria Wagner of Germany and Mayra Aguiar of Brazil.

Kenyan teams ready to rule the world

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary for Sports Ababu Namwamba has assured Kenyans the teams heading to the Olympics have prepared adequately for the Games and are ready to rule the world.

Kenya will be represented in various sports disciplines among them rugby (sevens team), volleyball (women), athletics (multiple disciplines), fencing (one athlete Alexandra Ndolo), swimming (two wild cards), and judo (one female).

The Ministry initiated early preparations for Kenya’s participation in the summer games. A core mission team was established in February 2023, comprising the Chef De Mission (CDM), Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Medical Officer (CMO), and other key officials,” Namwamba told Flashscore.

“In addition, the Cabinet Secretary, vide a Gazette Notice dated February 16th, 2024 unveiled a Preparatory and Management Committee to strengthen the preparation efforts of the mission team. These teams have been instrumental in planning and coordinating the country’s participation in the Games.”

Namwamba (centre) with the rugby sevens team
Namwamba (centre) with the rugby sevens teamNOCK Media

On why Kenya had picked Miramas as the base for training, Namwamba said: “The training facility in Miramas boasts an indoor track, football and rugby pitches, tennis courts, outdoor warm-up track, and boxing and taekwondo gyms and these will be great for the team’s as they prepare for the Games.”

To boost athletes' morale, Namwamba confirmed the government’s commitment to revise their allowances and cash rewards.

The Ministry has revised the athletes’ allowances and cash rewards in (3) three-fold, raising the local allowances from Kshs. 1000 to Kshs. 3000, and foreign allowances from USD 60 to USD 200. This revised rewards scheme is at an advanced stage of consideration by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC),” said Namwamba.

Namwamba emphasised Kenya's commitment to sending a clean team to Paris, adhering to its zero-tolerance policy on doping.

"We are a proud athletics nation that runs and wins clean. We are happy to send a clean team to the Olympics to continue flying our flag and proudly defend our heritage and athletics pedigree," he concluded.

Kenya will send a team to the Paralympics Games set to run from August 28th to September 8th, where 4520 para-sportspersons from 163 countries will face off.

Dennis Mabuka
Dennis MabukaFlashscore

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