Now working as Head of Communications at the federation of the sport in which she rose to prominence, the French Taekwondo Federation, Gwladys Épangue competed in three editions of the Olympic Games, winning bronze at Beijing 2008, and is a two-time world champion, with victories in 2007 and 2011. She also served as Chef de Mission for the young athletes in the French delegation at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018. Here, Épangue tells us about all the positive things you can be doing to prepare for the post-lockdown period.
What is your message for athletes?
I’d tell them to try to make the best of the situation, and to accept this forced time away from sport to focus on things they might not have had time to before, like family, health and looking after themselves. Now’s the time to tend to all those little niggles and injuries. It’s also a time to enjoy being with those around you and to have a bit of a sort-out, both literally at home and more generally in your life. Reorganise your life as an athlete, because there will be a before and an after with this lockdown. Most importantly, plan ahead! Think about how you’d like to do things to improve in the future. Now is also the time to take stock with your coaches, to see what’s working and what isn’t.
What’s the best way to handle such an unusual situation?
It’s important both to take this lockdown period very seriously and to treat it as a sort of joke where we’re still waiting for the punchline: how long will this go on for? We need to stay positive. On social media, I’ve been asking people to make sure they stay at home and telling them to wait it out and just take the positives. This is an exceptional situation that will happen only once in our lifetimes, and the current crop of athletes will be the only ones who’ll be able to say that they’ve had a five-year preparation for the Games!
Are you in contact with everyone in your entourage? And with other people?
I’ve been staying in touch with everyone – family and colleagues. Thanks to all the technology we have nowadays, you’re never really cut off. It means that I can go through my contacts list and speak to everyone; now’s the time to catch up with people because you know they’re all at home. I’ve been doing that a lot with athlete friends from all over the world: Europe, China, the USA, Africa. I try to keep their spirits up, telling them to stay positive and stay strong.
How have you been able to carry on working?
I’ve been working remotely for my federation. I’m in contact with all my colleagues and with the high-level athletes who regularly send me updates and messages, which I then post on our social media. We’ve also been running Facebook Live training sessions three times a week, with qualified taekwondo instructors giving one-hour classes on cardio, combat, technique, etc.
Are you still in touch with the young athletes from Buenos Aires 2018?
Of course, I’m still in contact with all the young athletes I was with at the Buenos Aires 2018 YOG, where I was Chef de Mission for the French delegation. We now keep in touch on social media. Last autumn, when we were celebrating the fact that it had been one year since the YOG, I sent them a few memories of the time we’d shared together. It’s great to see them grow and hear them express themselves. It was an incredible experience. I went to the competitions and provided support when things weren’t going so well. I’ll never forget those moments.
What are your thoughts on the one-year postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games?
First of all, the postponement of the Games is a shame for the athletes because the date was etched into their DNA. I’ve been through that. So to some extent, it hurts. But you have to be realistic: if it wasn’t possible to meet all the health requirements, it was only natural for the Games to be postponed.
What was at stake was too important not to have been taken into consideration. It was the right decision – the decision that needed to be taken.
How do you interpret the three hashtags that were launched by the IOC and are being used by athletes all over the world?
#Staystrong: This means that we need to stay strong mentally and fight to stay disciplined against the virus. But it’s also about what you’re doing physically. A high-level athlete has to stay in shape and maintain their maximum level so that they won’t have lost too much when it’s time to properly resume training. So I see it as a mental and physical challenge.
#Stayactive: Athletes need to keep working on their own projects and coming up with new ones, and make progress with their classes if they’re students, as it’s difficult being a high-level athlete and continuing your studies at the same time. So now is the time to get ahead! The same applies professionally as well; if you want to set up a business, this is the time to be thinking about it. Our brains keep going as a means of self-improvement. This is what staying active is all about.
#Stayhealthy: This one’s obvious, and it’s absolutely essential. To stay fit and healthy, we need to stay at home! This is the protection hashtag. It’s incredibly important. As long as you’re healthy, you can then go about working on your projects and keeping fit.