The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of sport. The games date back to Ancient Greece and have been revived in the early 1900s. To the entire planet, the Olympics are a beacon of hope for athletes from the most unknown areas. Maria Centracchio of Italy had her chance in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and came up big. She captured a bronze medal in Judo, capping off a very tough cycle that saw the tournament rescheduled for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, all the struggle, all of the hard work paid off as Centracchio took home the medal to be able to call herself one of the best in the world.
Judo is a family thing for Maria Centracchio. Her parents have their own gym and it was inevitable that she joined and started practicing the sport. While she resisted at first, it only took one lesson for her to fall in love.
“I started judo in my parents’ gym. Even though I initially didn’t want to, I tried a lesson one day and never stopped.”
Aside from judo, Centracchio enjoys being at home and using her footwork for something else. She says, “Outside of judo I love taking care of the house, cooking and I also love dancing.”
Maria Centracchio and The Olympic Games
Doing what Maria Centracchio did is no easy task. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were perhaps the hardest games to qualify for across all sports. With a global pandemic locking the world down and hitting her home country of Italy especially hard, Centracchio had a long road ahead of her.
“Qualifying was very difficult, it took 5 years of challenges in which I faced many difficulties. So getting to the Olympic qualification was the culmination of an intense journey and it was a great relief and a great joy at the same time.”
The pandemic was the hardest part of many athletes journey to Tokyo. But fortunately, Centracchio said it was her parents gym, the one she didn’t want to go to as a child, that made it possible for her to train in the pandemic. While she was still shut down for some time, the head start really did her well going into the Games.
“The pandemic has greatly slowed down preparation for the Olympics, both in Italy and in other countries. I was lucky, because I was able to always use my parents’ gym, even when everything was closed, without ever losing the pace of training. The difficult thing was to get back into the race pace after such a long stop.”
But, all the hard work throughout her life, the five year lead in to the Games, the blood, sweat and tears, all of it was worth it. Centracchio took home the bronze medal for Italy at 63 kilograms. She was counted out but overcame the odds and immortalized herself.
Maria Centracchio described the moment saying, “Winning the bronze medal was incredible! I knew inside me that that day would be mine, even if the predictions weren’t on my side. From knowing it within oneself, to doing it, however, there is an abyss and being able to really do it was wonderful.”
Unfortunately, Centracchio was not able to explore Tokyo due to the lockdown. “This time, due to COVID, we were unable to visit. We were locked in the “bubble” of the Olympic village, with permission to move only to train and compete.”
As for 2024, Centracchio hasn’t quite made her decision yet. She says that time for rest is needed and then she and her team will make their decision on Paris.
“Right now I’m thinking about getting back on my feet physically, then we’ll see what comes next,” says Centracchio.
And if you’re reading this, inspired and wanting to try judo, Centracchio says go for it! She says judo, like any other sport, is a series of goals to be accomplished.
“I advise anyone who wants to start practicing judo, as well as any other sport, to set goals and work hard to achieve them. With the right mind and sacrifices you can get anywhere.”
Maria Centracchio has achieved so much already. A bronze medal Olympian, the future is bright for the Italian judoka. Should she make it to 2024 in Paris, she will undoubtedly have the entire country of Italy behind her.