The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

50 Shades of Greats: The will must be stronger than the skill - Marcon Saywell (Bezzina)

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 7 February 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

‘The Malta Independent on Sunday’ meets MARCON SAYWELL, one of the best Judokas Malta has ever produced. She speaks about her sports’ scholarship, the seven-time GSSE participation, family and her crave for ice-creams

Marcon Saywell (Bezzina) was born on 11 September 1985. She is married to Judoka Jeremy Saywell, who is still competing and they are the proud parents of two-year-old Craig.

Marcon started this interview by talking about her childhood days which she describes as normal. “I come from a relatively big family and I am the eldest of four. I grew up in San Gwann where I lived with my family until I got married four years ago. My mother was practically our personal taxi driver taking me and my siblings around for training among other errands. I attended both St Catherine’s School in Pembroke and San Gwann School for my primary years and moved on St Monica School in Gzira for my secondary education. My character was rather timid and shy as a child and also as a teenager, which contradicts to the sport which I eventually pursued.”

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After finishing her secondary education Marcon wanted to try and find a balance between the academic aspect and sport. “At the time, opportunities were quite limited. National Sports School for example was inexistent. Therefore at school the focus was more on academic achievements rather than sports. Luckily the Malta Judo Federation, the Malta Olympic Committee and the Olympic Solidarity always backed me in my endeavours and pushed me to take a full-time scholarship in sports abroad. I took this opportunity and attended the University of Bath in the United Kingdom for a course in Sports Performance.”

“At this University I had the opportunity that, besides studying, I could train full-time with other professional athletes from around the world. We were under the supervision of world-known Judo coach, Jurgen Klinger. This obviously boosted my endurance and my career. In Malta I could not have had this opportunity and had I not taken this scholarship I would have been limited to the local judokas where I had already reached my potentials. This obviously was not easy, since I spent three years away from my family and friends. However, I do not regret any moment of this period in my life. Throughout this experience I met new people, learned from various experiences and at the end of the course, I finally succeeded in obtaining a degree in Sports Performance and could now also coach.”

But how did her interest in Judo begin? Was there any interest in any other sport? “None of my parents or close family members were related to sports or are sports enthusiasts. Nevertheless I was always keen on sports. I tried various sports disciplines, such as volleyball and netball, however, I preferred individual sports rather than a team sport.”

“I started practising judo and after one day my friend asked me to accompany her to a training session she was going to. I never said no in trying new ventures and although at that time I had no idea what judo entailed, I still went for this training session. I immediately fell in love with the sport and never looked back. Ironically, my friend did not continue practising the sport whereas I pursued in this journey. As a child I tried to strike a balance between the training sessions, which sometimes were intense, as well as school work. At the time I was only nine years old and the beginning of a long journey.”

“I remember enjoying every training session we had. I started with Sensei Joe Muscat and Sensei Ray Fava with Tigne Judo Club.”

We talked about the beginning and how difficult it is to reach certain levels. “Every athlete has a dream of becoming a champion. But to do so one needs to be prepared to make many sacrifices in order to succeed in their sport. Mental preparedness, the ability to stay focused, will power to continue, even when things get rough, are all what one needs to keep in mind to move forward. I like to think of what Muhammad Ali said. “Champions aren’t made in gyms.  Champions are made from something they have deep inside them; a desire, a dream and a vision. They have to have last minute stamina, they have to be a little faster and they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

With such an illustrious career Marcon delved deep and gave a detailed account of her career. I joined the national team at a fairly young age and had my first international event in Sicily where I won Gold in my category. Few months later I competed in the Island games and EYOF.”

“But I guess my launching pad was the Games of the Small States in 2003 which were held in Malta. There I won bronze and silver in the teams’ event. At that time, I was only 17 years old. The fact that we were competing in Malta was beneficial to us as we had all the audience supporting us and this helped immensely. Playing on home ground with all the Maltese support backing us up was an experience I will always cherish. 2003 was the first time Team Events were held and fighting in a team was a whole new experience and carried with it much more responsibility. I will never forget, fighting till the end, so our team could progress and win a medal.”

Since then, it was a rollercoaster of emotions and competitions. “Just one year later, I was awarded a wild card and represented Malta at the Olympic Games in Athens.”

“My second competing experience in the GSSE came two years later in Andorra where I won Gold. It came quite as a surprise for me because although I was well prepared, I had to compete with home favourite Mari-Carme Fernandez Lopez. It was not an easy fight against a home judoka as I had the whole crowd against me and the excitement of being in the gold medal final made it even tougher.”

“The third experience was in Monaco in 2007. In this session I moved up a category and started competing in the under 63kg. I won my second GSSE gold medal after the one in under 57kg of Andorra. In the final match I came against Laura Lopez Sales. It was a tough, hard-fought and a very close match. In fact it went to golden score and it took close to nine minutes. This game seemed never ending, however finally, I was on the winning side and the achievement was far greater.”

For Marcon 2008, was a year to remember as she was awarded again the Wild Card for the Olympic Games where she was the Malta flag bearer for the open ceremony. “It was an amazing feeling and I was extremely proud to lead Team Malta in front of all those people.”

Back to the GSSE and more experiences… “My fourth experience was in Cyprus in 2009. I felt that I was well prepared but on the day of the competition I managed to win a bronze medal. This was not a bad result, being my fourth individual medal but I had got used to better coloured medals. Fifth experience was in Liechtenstein in 2011. I admit that this was one of the worst memories and most disappointing competition in my sporting career. I had a tough injury in this competition. I suffered from an elbow injury in my initial match and eventually lost this match due to this injury. However, despite the injury, I persevered and did not retire from competition. I decided to take on my second game although obviously not in my best of health, but managed to win this fight against Monaco to my greatest surprise.  This gave me a boost despite still being injured to continue the games. However, in the last game, I lost my bronze medal match in the last 20 seconds where I was winning by waza-ari.”

Following the disappointment in Liechtenstein, Marcon overcame the injury she sustained and thus competed in the Luxembourg GSSE in 2013; and this time round managed to win a bronze medal.

And finally onto the final participation in the Small Nations Games. “Iceland 2015. Here I managed to keep the bronze medal, which I had obtained in 2013. The atmosphere of the GSSE is so special due to having a big contingent and every athlete from different sport support each other as a Team Malta. At the time these were the games each athlete used to look up to in order to be able to participate in.”

Another important moment for Marcon was the year 2014. “Yes, I competed in the Commonwealth Games and my last competition was the first European games in Baku. Both competitions were an amazing experience. After Baku I decided it was time to close my high performance chapter and retire from competition.”

But after retiring, did Marcon call it a day from all that relates to Judo? “Having retired, I didn’t close my chapter with Judo. I decided to start supporting the technical and coaching team, where I assist the national coaches, especially with the younger athletes, and also started experiencing matside coaching, which was something totally new for me. You are right there, next to the mat, but you cannot fight yourself and the athlete in the middle of the mat is depending on your advice.

“I had a small career break to raise my little one, Craig, who is also growing up on the tatami, supporting his father. Eventually I will return, to give back some of the huge experience I gathered over these decades in international judo.”

Other milestones in her career were the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens and Beijing 2008. “Every athlete’s dream is to compete in the Olympic Games where I was lucky enough to compete in two Olympics. In 2004 I competed in the under 57kg category and in 2008 I competed in the under 63kg category. Both editions were amazing and an unforgettable experience. The atmosphere in the Olympic village is amazing, all athletes from every country in one place. There one meets and get to know the best athletes from all disciplines from around the world.”

Marcon also won bronze in the 2006 Commonwealth Championships. Is this considered as her best career achievement? “Definitely it’s a medal that I will remember but winning two Gold medals in the GSSE are my favourite.”

Another aspect for an athlete is being recognised by the sporting sector during the Sport Malta Awards. “Being an athlete in general is not easy. Being an athlete in Malta, especially until my time, as there have been developments since then, athletes were seen as amateurs, and you had to somehow slot in your training between your work and private life. Being recognised on a national stage, among all the athletes by the journalists and the public, gives you more inspiration and courage.”

“However, not being awarded the title, does not mean that as an athlete you didn’t deserve it: your sport could be a niche sport or not well understood by journalists or more demanding than others, so results are more difficult to attain. At the end of the day, what is inside that counts. What is nice in these awards is that more categories have been introduced, which also cover young athletes. It is important that athletes get the coverage they deserve!”

Are there any particular moments which are still encrypted on your mind? “Moments that are still encrypted in my mind are winning two gold medals in GSSE while hearing the Maltese national anthem and competing in 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. In addition, being the flag bearer of Malta for the 2008 Olympic Games and on a personal level getting married to someone who understands my sport. Moreover the birth of Craig two years ago is a moment that I will never forget.”

But is Marcon still involved in Judo after such an illustrious career? “I am currently much less involved due to having a young toddler while balancing between family and work life. However, at times I still make time to train while supporting my husband who is still training regularly towards participating in the next Olympics. I also help in coaching when needed, though at the moment, I have limited time.”

And what about the future of Judo in Malta. “Judo has evolved over time. On the international stage, Judo is becoming a more understandable sport, with easier rules and more television-friendly. In Malta, mostly thanks to our president, Envic Galea and Sports director, Alex Bezzina, we now have new, state-of-the-art premises. In my time, we trained on a 64sq.m. mat, which is way smaller than a competition area. Nowadays we have two competition areas where we can train and hold our national competitions. Squads are divided by age category and have their own dedicated training sessions.”

“The federation also offers the service of a national coach Denis Braidotti, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so athletes can slot in their training depending on their work and personal life. It is also much easier nowadays to make contact with foreign clubs and federations for training exchanges. So, if we keep on going with this trend, Judo in Malta should be back in its heyday very soon.”

Turning our attention to more personal aspects Marcon mentioned the importance that her family has in her life. “To me, my family is everything. We support each other to achieve our dreams even though we have a young child. I have also had full support from my parents and siblings throughout my sports career and this has brought me to where I am and what I have achieved to this very day.”

Saywell loves various food but obviously has her favourite dishes. “I love all kinds of food, however, I am favoured to meat and pasta most particularly, while practically addicted to ice-cream.”

And when it goes down to travelling? “This answer would definitely be Japan. I love their culture and the place itself is extraordinary with many places to visit, making it one of the perfect destinations for a great long holiday.”

Free time is meant for relaxation and also hobbies. And she finds time for both. Most definitely sports and adventurous activities with my family. I also love to go for a run whenever I get some free time, and watch movies with my family.”

Bringing this interesting interview to an end Marcon has one final message. “Sometimes Judo is foreseen as a fighting sport and dangerous. Although there might be some truth in this, however, this should not determine an individual, especially young children trying out this sport. From my experience, I can proudly say that Judo instils in you a lot of self-discipline, coordination and matures you holistically as a person.”

“Moreover, I would also like to point out that this sport is not earmarked solely for men, as sometimes this is the perception. As you can see as a female athlete I was able to overcome all the taboos that this sport is for men. Also, a word of advice to the parents reading this article “should your kids show some interest in judo, do not deter them from at least having a try”.

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