Judo has forever been in the blood of Traralgon’s Aoife Coughlan.
Hailing from Irish parents Paul and Jean, who ironically met in a Judo club, the 25-year-old has dedicated her life to the combat sport and has now, after years of hard work, had her Olympic dream realised after being announced as part of the national team going to Tokyo for the upcoming games.
Following in the footsteps of her brother Eoin, who attended the 2016 Games in Rio, Aoife will continue her family’s Olympic legacy when she hits the mat later this month and serves as one of just a handful of Latrobe Valley born athletes flying the flag for the region on the global stage.
Coughlan said it is a surreal feeling to finally be recognised as an Olympian.
“I still don’t have a great answer for that question to be honest, it is something I have been working towards for a long time and something I have wanted for a long time so it can be a bit difficult to put it into words,” Coughlan told The Express.
“It is so exciting and I am just so proud to be part of the Australian team.”
In what was an arduous campaign, she outlined the process for Olympic qualification.
“For Judo qualification is a two-year period going to various competitions and trying to gain a certain number of points, you have to be in the top 18 in the world to be invited to the Olympics and that ranking comes from accruing points through winning fights and medals,” she said.
“It is similar to VCE in a way where for the first year of qualification you get 50 per cent of those points and in the second you get 100 per cent and you get six results from that period which are your best which go towards your final ranking.”
Tokyo had always been a long term goal for Coughlan with the games falling perfectly in the middle of her prime age bracket.
She outlined her mind set heading into this period and the setbacks that COVID caused her in achieving her dream.
“For me Tokyo was the first one I had a proper run at, I was still young and developing prior to
Rio so I went on all the preparation camps with those Olympians but 2020 was my goal,” she said.
“(COVID) was a pretty big hurdle in the process and caused a massive break in competition, specifically being from Victoria we were in lockdown for an extended period compared to the rest of the country so it was mentally quite draining.
“However, at the end of the day it was a bit of a blessing in disguise because it was the longest period I have got to spend at home in the past two years and I really got to concentrate on my strength and fitness as well as my technique – so when we were able to restart competition I had a power of work behind me and I ended up performing a lot better.”
A talented multi-sport athlete all through her childhood, Coughlan described growing up in the
Latrobe Valley and her pathway to the elite level of Judo.
“I played heaps of sports when I was younger but Judo was always a family thing for me, my parents met through Judo in Ireland so when they moved to Australia they found a club near Traralgon which they got involved in and put my two older brothers into, and being a younger sister all you want to do is follow your older siblings around,” she said.
“I started with the Yinnar and District Judo Club and then moved to the Traralgon Judo Club and they gave me a great base in the sport to build on so when I finished high school I moved to Melbourne and started training at the Resilience Training Centre with four-time Olympian Daniel Kelly who then became my coach and refined my skills to push into higher grade competition.”
Another driving force behind her steady rise in the sport has been the constant presence of her siblings, who have been alongside her every step of the way striving for that Olympic goal.
She talked about their importance on her career and recalled watching Eoin compete in the 2016 Rio Games.
“Eoin and my younger sister (Maeve) both have been training partners and teammates of mine and I can’t express how grateful I am for the support they give me and the confidence they have helped me build,” she said.
“I was actually over in Rio and we were actually there in the stadium watching him (Eoin) compete and just seeing how dedicated he was to it and how resilient he was it made me more concrete on what I wanted to do and pushed me to go that extra step further.
“Come Paris, my sister will be going to those Olympics as well so I am really hoping the both of us are there and we can keep the Olympic legacy going.”
With her ticket to Tokyo finally punched and the preparation period all but over, Coughlan outlined her major hopes for the games and what will without a doubt be a pinch yourself moment as she takes to the mat.
“I recently finished top eight at the World Championships and that was a big confidence booster for me, so I would like to finish at least top eight at the Olympics if not better – but most importantly I want to do myself justice with my performance and do everybody who has helped me along the way proud,” she said.
“It will definitely take a minute to sink in, for me it is about settling myself down, taking in that moment and getting the job done.”