Donne (D) and Thomas-Laszlo (T) Breytenbach are twin sibling judokas at the University of Pretoria. The pair are working hard towards qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics. PDBY sat down with them to discuss their journey as judo athletes. From discovering the sport to developing into professionals and the road towards the Games.
You have said in other interviews that you found judo as a result of ditching nap time because you were both energetic children. Do you think your younger selves knew that those actions would culminate into where you are now?
T: At the time it was just sort of like a short-term escape. I think they [our younger selves] would be really happy to see that we took it on to like this whole career path and followed it almost to the very end. And to the pinnacle of sporting events.
D: I think they would be proud to see where we are at now. The discipline and the commitment that we’ve shown. I think they’d be happy.
Nowadays, we have young athletes who know for a fact that they want to make a career of their sport. So, they set out these major goals like qualifying for a World Cup. When did you realise you wanted to do judo professionally as opposed to just recreationally?
T: We moved to Tuks Club in 2012, just before that [the] Olympic Games and I think seeing athletes training that were going to the Olympics then. It was fuel on the fire, it pushed us even further.
D: The first SASCOC international tournament. [In the year] 2015 that’s when it shifted for me. I was like ‘this is definitely what I want to be doing’.
T: Yeah, that’s when it sort of shifted. But when it became serious was 2016, when we got accepted into TuksSport High School, and then it went on to training three times a day, averaging 5-6 hours, training a day Monday through Saturday. And it became sort of a professional mindset.
This idea of the road to the Olympics. Can you explain to me what that road looks like for the two of you?
T: [To] qualify at the Olympic Games you have to compete at tournaments, and you gain points for winning matches. You have to be in the top 18 in your weight in the world and as the competitions go on those point [points] go higher. That 18th spot keeps rising in points. The road to qualify to the games is do as many competitions and try [to] perform at them. It depends [on] how well you perform, how difficult your road will be.
T: You have your phases of training, but you always put 110% in your training. The training varies depending on how close you are to [a] competition. Our coach, Nikola always says [that] if you’re not going to give 110% in your training session just rather go home. Rest. You’ll do more good resting then what you’re gonna do training and just sort of being lazy.
When your average person thinks training it is just cardio or weights or diet etc. What sort of preparation goes into this journey that an outsider does not immediately recognise?
T: Training while you’re hungry. Doing anything while you’re hungry and don’t have the nutrients to do it is very difficult. My sister, she was very recently training in a training camp in Czech Republic and that weekend she had to fight at the Latvian European Open. So, she was doing everything everyone else was doing but she was cutting weight.
D: So I was eating absolutely nothing. I was on my diet plan: nutrients cut to little, liquids cut to minimum. Everyone there is fine and healthy and not hungry and they’ve got the strength. And you’re there like ‘Okay, well we’ve gotta do it.’.
T: With that is also injury management. Training while you’re injured. There’s a lot of people that [have] very hectic injuries but they [have] a really important competition in the next two, three weeks. So [if they] can’t go for that [operation] they need for their knee, they just [have] to do the injury management. A lot of physio, a lot of strapping, a lot of rehab, icing and sort of just working through it.
Of course, now you’re focused on qualifying for the Olympics. But past that, what is something you would like to do as a judo athlete?
T: Then it’s time to give back for me. I want to develop judo especially in our less provided areas. Like, if you take PE, it’s extremely good talent that comes out of PE. It’s [because of] funding and recognition, you can’t keep the kids in the sport because there’s no incentive for them. I’d like to use what I’ve learnt in my personal career to give back and hopefully start a new generation a lot stronger.
D: We want to prove to them [young kids] that it can happen. We want to be these kids’ role models.