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Interview with Emmanuel Nartey: Olympian, soldier and student

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“I believe I have to be the best in everything I do,” Emmanuel tells me. He has a steely determination that has seen him succeed in his studies, in judo and in the military.

When I speak to the young judoka he is in-between two tough training sessions and, as seems to be his habit, working hard.

The Ghanaian-born former Olympian came to the UK from Africa at the age of eighteen to join the army. “From the beginning it was very difficult,” he says. Knowing no one in England he initially led a very solitary life which was a struggle after being surrounded by family in Ghana; “after a few months I got used to the reality”. 

You’ll be relieved to hear England is no longer a lonely place for Emmanuel, who is currently undertaking PhD research at the University of East London while simultaneously juggling world level judo and a career in the army, all with characteristic efficiency.

Currently in training at Bath University for the European Open in Minsk, which begins on July 22nd, Emmanuel is wholly focused. I tried to enquire about long term plans: does he want to return to the Olympics perhaps? No dice. Very sensibly, he’s got his eyes firmly on the prize. Watch out Minsk!

Having taken up Judo at nine years old, it’s been a massive part of Emmanuel’s life. As a child he tells me his parents didn’t allow him to play football because it kept him away from school; conversely, Judo made him wait around for hours after school to train.

Clearly those dual pursuits stayed with him: “Going to the Olympic Games and winning a World Cup medal” are Emmanuel’s proudest moments in sport, but Ghana’s first Olympic Judoka also seems determined to do some good in the world. Currently delving into the sordid world of financial corruption in developing countries, Emmanuel says he has seen “the evil side of international corporations” and he wants to do something about it.

His Ghanaian roots have given the young athlete a focus on helping the developing world as a whole, he says, not just Ghana. He also says it has always been his long term plan to eventually return home.

Elsewhere too Emmanuel’s sporting focus has been tempered with social concern; he says: “Before the 2012 Olympic Games I decided to write my autobiography, the main reason is to inspire the next generation”.

His main aim is to inspire hope, as he says thoughtfully: “In every situation, there is a way out”.

Judo, Emmanuel argues, has given him skills that transfer into every aspect of his life. Discipline, overcoming challenges and focusing on prioritised issues are all key life-skills that have helped him in his studies and beyond, which he honed on the judo mat.

Emmanuel is keen to recommend judo to others, its ability to build fitness and focus the mind has been invaluable to him and it’s one to watch out for at sporting fresher’s fairs across the country come September.




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