Written by Jo Crowley on 08. Feb 2024
Photographs by Gabriela Sabau, Emanuele Di Feliciantonio, Lars Moeller Jensen

An Baul (KOR) has become something of a judo icon, with fans all over the world eager to see him compete, either online through JudoTV or in person at a grand slam, Masters or world championships. He has charisma, great skill and incredible speed, a highly watchable combination that inspires children from all continents to emulate his style.

An Baul winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympic Games, 2021.

Last weekend An Baul was in Paris to compete again at one of his favourite tournaments. He has won the event twice before, in 2018 and 2020, with 4 medals in total. Those sit on top of a world championship gold and 2 Olympic medals.

Paris Grand Slam gold, 2020.

“It’s exciting to be in Paris ahead of the Olympic Games. There is really not much time left. After winning medals at both my first and second Games, I look forward to the start of my third challenge toward my goal. I imagine being at the top of that stage, the one I dreamed of the whole time I have been doing judo.

I started judo at 12; I simply thought it was cool so I wanted to be the best at it. Back in 2004 I saw a Korean athlete win gold, Lee Won-Hee and in 2008 I watched Choi Min-Ho and I thought they were pretty incredible; I wanted to do that!

Choi Min-Ho was my coach at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and I had watched him fight all those years before. He was inspirational as a coach and I knew he understood the right way. My judo made great progress and I took many details from him.”

An Baul with coach Choi Min-Ho at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Photo courtesy of David Finch / Getty Images.

“It doesn’t matter where we play but I do like fighting in Paris. I have 2 gold, a silver and a bronze there and the atmosphere always makes me excited to compete. I’m really enjoying competing with all the different players on the World Judo Tour at the moment. I feel I’m learning from all of them. It’s fun to be learning all the time. It’s usually fun, actually, sometimes it’s very hard to absorb new details and be able to use them but overall it’s a big part of the fun, to learn and work and make progress.”

An Baul on his way to gold in Paris, 2018.

It is ten years since An Baul first won a medal on the World Judo Tour, a silver medal in Jeju in his home country. A decade later and he remains a formidable opponent for anyone in the category. With two goals, one for the process, to keep learning, and one for the outcome, to win Olympic gold, he seems to have found a very positive balance. It is almost certain he will be among the contenders at this summer’s Olympic Games and we are already looking forward to seeing him take to the tatami at the Grand Palais Ephemere at the end of July. Will you be there?