Marlene Harnois: "Winning the Olympic bronze was the greatest feeling ever"
Marlene Harnois (Montreal, Canada, 22nd of October 1986), decided to leave her born country at the age of 19 to continue her dream of becoming an Olympian athlete in France. A decision, based on the lack of financial support for amateur fighters in Canada, which has allowed Harnois to emerge as one of the brightest Taekwondo starts of the recent times, having already won 2 European titles, 1 bronze at the World Championships and a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games with only 26 years old.
Q. You were already two-time European champion, bronze medallist at the World Championships and World University champion when you arrived in London. Did you notice many differences between these competitions and the Olympics?
A. Yes, definitely. I had always dreamed of becoming an Olympian one day and it came true in London. Competing one day in the Olympics is what gave me the strength and the power to sacrifice everything to realize my dream. I had so much respect for its values, for the spirit and for the history of the Olympic Games. The event is beautiful and also amazing in terms of audience, media attention, sponsors… and having all of my country cheering for me made me so much stronger.
Q. You seemed to start the competition at your best in London. You beat your first opponent, Yeny Contreras, by 14-3. Didn’t you feel nervous at all? It was your Olympic debut…
A. I was so happy for finally being able to compete at the Olympics and so excited that I didn’t even feel nervous or anything! I just wanted to capture my moment as much as I could and wanted to give my very best!
Q. The Quarter-finals are obviously a crucial round. A victory puts you on the way to the medals and gives you two chances to win one, while losing means the medal dream is over. Did you feel that pressure when facing Wahba from Egypt? It was a much closer combat than the previous one…
A. I didn’t feel nervous or even considered losing at any point during the tournament. I knew she was a really strong fighter with excellent head shots so I had to adapt my game in order to win. My strategy was different against her, I decided to take less risks, take my time to score my points and then play with her in order to neutralize her actions.
Q. In the semi-final you had to fight against the second favourite of the competition, the Chinese Hou. You lost by 8-3. If you could be there again, would you change your strategy? What was the key of the match?
A. Overconfidence is what made my lose this match. I had previously beaten her 4-0 in the final of the Universiade and I strongly believed that I could fight her the same way, but I got caught off guards in the beginning of the match and then I found it very hard to catch up my points. The key was to score my points by letting her attack me and choose the right moments to hit her, but the exact opposite happened! I would love to have the power to redo this match, but I can’t. Now I’m working everyday trying to give my very best in order to come back stronger from that experience.
Q. The bronze medal fight against Hamada from Japan was all or nothing… What was your reaction when you won the combat and became Olympic medallist? What did you feel?
A. The greatest feeling ever! It was an incredible moment because when you go through repechage, the feelings are multiplied. Within a few hours my world had collapsed after my defeat and then I came back to seize my last opportunity and realised my dream of winning a medal! It was the fight of my life, I couldn’t let it pass away. Right after the combat I just could smile, I was shining and I proudly showed off my flag on the tatami… a beautiful victory that still brings so much joy into my life.
Q. Let’s go back to your roots. You were born in Montreal (Canada) and after becoming one of Canada’s most successful Junior athletes, the French Federation invited you to train for 1 year in France. What reasons made you accept the invitation?
A. At first, I saw it as a life experience to go abroad, discover a new country and to open up to a new culture, and at the same time it was a unique chance to train with some of the best fighters in the world in a very professional environment.
Q. After 1 year in France, you went back to Canada and stopped practising Taekwondo for about 4 years. What happened?
A. I got so discouraged by the lack of financial support for amateur athletes in Canada. There was no national training centre, so I was training at my club and didn’t have any appropriate partner to practice with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any future in those conditions, it was to far away from my goals and dreams.
Q. In 2006 you returned to France to resume your Taekwondo career there. You became French citizen in 2008 and since then you started to achieve your most important medals. Is the training in France that different in comparison with the one you were used to have in Canada?
A. The training itself isn’t so much different, but in France we have so many more tools to optimize ourselves. I mean, my life here is completely different. I live at the national training centre, train 4 or 5 hours a day, during the gaps I have teachers coming to the campus so that I can continue my studies… there are lots of sparring partners, physical sessions, weight lifting is included in the program… We also have access to doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists, biomecanichal engineers, so the training conditions are much more professional. The French Federation also sends us on a regular basis to international training camps and open tournaments to get prepared for the championships.
Q. How is the training for the Puebla World Championships going? Do you see yourself becoming World champion there?
A. I hope so, I really want to win the world title, it’s my main goal this year. I am training with as much intensity as I did for the Olympics. Mexico is a wonderful country and I love the people there, so hopefully I’ll be lucky in Puebla!
Q. I’ve read you are a journalist. What would you like to do in the future? Will you be linked to Taekwondo? Will you work as a journalist? Taekwondo specialized or any other type of journalism…
A. For now, I am just focused on training hard, promoting my sport and getting involved in different charity initiatives. The Olympics gave me a lot of visibility, so I get invited to a lot of TV shows, events and I have a weekly contribution in national radio show. It all keeps me very busy, but Taekwondo is my passion and all the media attention is very good for the development of our sport! However, after my sporting career I would love to have my own TV show or take part in an action movie, and maybe start a foundation to help less fortunate people enjoy a better life through the power of sport!
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