Judoka Katryna Esposito produced one of the most remarkable stories for Team Malta at the 2022 Commonwealth Games as the 21-year-old bounced back from losing her opening bout in the -48kg to go on and secure a bronze medal in Birmingham. Valhmor Camilleri spoke to the young judoka about her achievement…
Prior to the Games, few had tipped Katryna Esposito to be among the medal contenders for Team Malta but the young judoka showed great discipline and resilience to return home with a bronze medal around her neck, a remarkable achievement for someone who has only started practicing the sport full time less than five years ago.
“To be honest, I am still getting over the excitement of winning a bronze medal,” Esposito told the Times of Malta.
“I am naturally very happy with my achievement. It’s true that the level of competition at the Commonwealth Games was quite high but my mindset coming here was to make sure I would do my best of my ability to try and win a medal.
I came here determined to give my 110 per cent and no doubt this result is a huge boost for my career.”
Esposito said that the start of the competition was very disappointing for her as she admitted to committing a silly mistake against English judoka Amy Platten that cost her the win.
“After the first fight I was very angry with myself as I lost the bout after I made a stupid mistake and messed it all up,” Esposito said.
“I was determined to not let it happen again as I knew that I had thrown away a fight I could have potentially won. But I managed to transform that negativity into something positive as I produced a strong performance in the second bout where I eased past Welsh judoka Ashleigh-Anne Barnikel to book a place in the bronze medal play-off with an Ippon.
“But there was still more work to be done when I stepped up for the bronze medal fight. I was up against a very experienced judoka in Priscilla Morand, of the Mauritius. She is ranked 40th in the world and I knew that apart from skill and technique I had to adopt the right tactics.
“Throughout the fight I managed to keep my discipline and followed my game plan to perfection. I was blessed to have a lot of support from the crowd and the MOC contingent who were very loud and that gave me an added boost.”
Asked what she felt when the referee showed a third yellow card to Morand that handed her the win, Esposito said: “At first I hadn’t actually processed what had happened. But when I then realised that I won, my mind went blank, I just thanked everyone and just cried a lot.”
Esposito’s medal takes further significance when one considers the transition the local governing body went through this year when Aurelien Fleisz replaced Dennis Braidotti as national coach.
But Esposito said she had only words of praise for the two coaches and the federation who conducted the transition very fluidly without never compromising the judokas preparation.
“The judo federation has come through a lot this year and I am sure this medal is a great boost for our sport and hopefully we can attract more athletes to our sport,” Esposito said.
“It’s true that this year we had a change in national coach but that had very little effect on us as the transition was very fluid and the hand over from Dennis Braidotti to Aurelien Fleisz was done in the proper manner by both parties so the athletes didn’t suffer.”
Now that her Commonwealth Games run ends, Esposito is determined to step up her preparations for the 2023 GSSE in Malta and is now planning to compete in more international events this year.
“Now we will evaluate the plan for the rest of the year, but personally I would love to take part in the European U-23 Championships that will be held in November,” Esposito said.
“Added to that, early next year there is going to be a competition that will bring together the countries competing in the GSSE and that will be important for us to see what level of competition we will be facing in Malta next year.
Esposito said that she hopes her success in Birmingham will inspire more Maltese youngsters to take up the sport, particularly after the federation lost several athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a population, I feel that we are quite a fighter population and we tend to do well in sport like judo and wrestling as it is in our character not to back down for a fight,” Esposito said.
“I sincerely hope that this result will instill more interest in judo as a whole. Over COVID-19, a lot of judokas stopped and at the moment in the national team we are very few and we don’t have enough sparring partners.
“I hope that judo will have the opportunity to get more into schools as that would definitely help to attract more youngsters to our sport.”
Turning her sights towards next year’s Games of the Small States of Europe in Malta, it’s inevitable that Esposito will be seen as one of Malta’s medal contenders.
However, Esposito is not looking too far away as she is aware that in this sport there are no guarantees for success.
“Obviously the Malta GSSE is a big appointment and we are looking forward to it,” Esposito said.
“But, honestly, I am not setting any targets as in judo you can prepare well for a competition but you can easily win or lose a bout in just a few seconds.
“There are no guarantees of success and it’s how you perform on the day that counts. So I’m just continuing to work hard to ensure that I am in the best possible shape and then see what happens”.