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Against the Odds: Bernadett Baczko

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Bernadett battled against the effects of injury, and the death of her mother

The BBC's Against the Odds series profiles athletes heading to the Olympics despite huge obstacles.

Nick Thorpe meets a Hungarian judoka who has returned to competition after a string of serious injuries - and a family tragedy.

Wherever you look in Bernadett Baczko's flat, there are signs of her profession.

Blue and white judo tunics hang drying on the balcony - her own, and those of her boyfriend, Laci.

There are photographs on the sofa, medals on the mantlepiece, and training shoes in the hall.

Laci cooks lunch while we talk in the living room.

Start of suffering

It's a tiny flat, just 54 square metres, in Ujpest, a working-class suburb of Budapest, a stone's throw from the river Danube.

Bernadett Baczko
Competes in women's under 57kg category
Beat reigning Olympic champion in 2007 'Worlds'
In action on Monday 11 August from 0500 GMT

Tall poplar trees cushion the roar of the traffic from the main road which runs close to the building, funnelling commuters into the city.

Bernadett is relaxed on camera, full of pride in her achievements in her chosen sport, but there's no trace of arrogance.

"I began judo when I was nine, which turned out to be the ideal age for a girl, though I didn't know that at the time.

"I have three older brothers, and was brought up as a bit of a tomboy, but it was actually a friend, a classmate who first took me to a training session. I fell in love with it straight away."

Bernadett Baczko
Bernadett is taking no chances as she warms up for Beijing
Bernadett advanced in the sport with great strides, encouraged by all her family, but especially her mother.

She would come to all the competitions, and encouraged not only her daughter, but even Bernadett's rivals.

In 2002 Bernadett began winning international competitions. She narrowly failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

That was the year her "calvary", as she calls her suffering, began.

'Incurable illness'

In August 2004, she and her team arrived late for a competition, and didn't have time to warm up.

In the very first match, I attempted a certain technique, and my leg got stuck. There was an awful pain in my right knee
Bernadett Baczko

"In the very first match, I attempted a certain technique, and my leg got stuck. There was an awful pain in my right knee. But I took part in three more matches. I just didn't want to give up."

When she got home, her doctor could not understand how she managed to compete. The ligament in her right knee was torn.

In October that year, she was operated on.

"At about the same time, we found out that my mother had an incurable illness. She died in June 2005."

She relates how so many people mourned with her, in the Hungarian judo world as well.

Her mother's presence at matches had inspired many a young Hungarian judo hopeful.

End of dark tunnel

Her funeral took place just as Bernadett was coming out of her 8 months forced retirement from judo, and was starting university in Budapest.

GV of the Daube, in Budapest
Bernadett studied in Budapest

"In 2006 I started winning prizes again. But then I injured my other knee. Fortunately, it didn't need an operation."

Then in the spring of 2007, just as she was preparing for the World Championships in Rio, she contracted a serious stomach illness.

"This time, my coach assembled a whole team behind me - a doctor, a dietician, a psychologist..."

It paid off, and she won the bronze medal in Rio. And that is how she qualified for Beijing.

She shows the medal proudly. I study it carefully, but there's no text.

"If you hold it up to the light, you can tell its bronze...not gold or silver' she laughs.

Rio marked for her the end of the tunnel.

"It took me three years to come to terms with the loss of my mother, and with all the injuries...only now can I talk about these things without crying." And her voice barely quavers.

We race across town to the next training session - and arrive late, because of the interview.

But ahead of Beijing, she's taking no chances, and starts warming up straight away.

"It is an individual sport, but I'm lucky to be part of a really good, young team.

"We support one another hugely, which is very important, and will be decisive in the Olympics too. You could say we're even more excited for one another than we are for our own matches.

"And I think that's quite unusual."


Your comments on this story:

What a great series! I have grown very cynical about professional sports and the Olympics due to all of the cheating that goes on with steroid abuse, etc. Still, there are a lot of incredible athletes out there who have gone through a lot to get to these games. Thanks for this inspirational story. I look forward to reading more.
Mary N., Berwyn, Illinois, USA

It is time to realize the beneficial influences that sports have on people, on individuals and youngsters as well. I believe young people with problems could learn and gain a lot from doing some sport - unfortunately these young people are not given enough attention, which in fact would be important, we should not forget how difficult it is to grow up.
JN, Romania

Oh please, enough already. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of athletes with "against the odds" stories, so what's the big deal? I would expect all this schmaltzy stuff from the US networks (yes you ABC) but not from the BBC.
Nigel Pond, United States

Canada against the odds story is in the gymnastics/floor routine with Mark Shewfeld coming back from two broken legs... and I am sure there are many others...life has a way of testing us ...It is great to hear these athletes stories ... a tremendously testament to spirit and inspirational dedication.
Tracy German, Toronto, Canada

Thank you for an inspiring story, my 14 year old daughter does judo and her instuctor Edson Madeira will go to the Olympics to represent Mozambique. We will be cheering for you too. Best of luck
Monica Campos, Maputo - Mozambique

Very inspiring story. I am sure Bernadett in her come back almost ensuring a medal for Hungary in Beijing Olympics. Good luck!!
Mukunda, Bangalore , India

Bernadett, I wish you all the luck and hope to see you on the podium.
S Dasgupta, Bangalore, India

Her story is inspirational and deeply moving. I will be rooting for her during these Olympics. Go for it Bernadett, you have what it takes and then some. You are my hero.
Iftikhar Anwar, Tulsa, Ok. USA

I will be cheering for her during the Olympics.Thank you for the wonderful story.
Dixie, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, USA

I Hope that Bernadett's story of never give up, will inspire other people in their lives to take up something and no matter what comes along, never give up, just keep going, also as Bernadett's mother did encourge other people to do the same. I Wish you all the very best for the future. My motto Live in the moment.

JOHN MORRIS, Ascot Berkshire Uk

Good Luck, Kid: you deserve it !
Martin Curtin, Macau, China

Hats off to your sincere effort. Where normal people fail, you will succeed. There lies your victory. You have won the battle of the mind, what is left is the execution in the Championship. I have faith in thee. You will certainly come out fine. God Bless.
Nived, bangalore, India

Good luck Bernadett ...we will cheer for you !!!
IFRAZ, BA/ FIJI ISLANDS

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