Olympics-Chad pins Olympic medal hope on judoka Memneloum

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By Mahamat Ramadane

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Demos Memneloum's dream was just to qualify for the Olympics in the sport she loves and she achieved that this year when the 26-year old became Chad's first ever athlete to qualify for judo through points earned on the tatami instead of an invite.

But as the start of the Tokyo Olympics draws near, pressure is building on her as the only medal hope for the central African nation that has gone through a tumultuous first half of the year following an attack by rebels in the north, and the battle-field death of long-time President Idriss Deby.

"I feel the pressure of my family, my coach, my friends and especially Chadians who place their hope in me," Memneloum told Reuters.

After earning points in competitions including a bronze medal at the 2019 African Championships, and the 2019 All African Games, Memneloum reached 779 points in the International Judo Federation table, placed 48th in the under 70 kg category.

"The media talk about me as the country's hope for the Olympics. The supporters prevent me from practicing publicly with others at the stadium because everyone has a word of encouragement to say and say hello to me," she said.

Inside a school classroom transformed into a training room with worn-out mats on the floor in the Ardepdjoumal popular district in Chad's capital, Memneloum is the only female training among eight men.

"I'm afraid to disappoint everyone," Memneloum said, adding that she understand the challenges that awaits her.

The second-year resource management student who was encouraged to joined judo by her father at the age of seven, said that despite the lack of resources for athletes in the heavily indebted nation, she is proud to be the first athlete to qualify.

Her coach Ahmed Djerma Dassering said Memneloun's self-confidence and discipline have enabled her impose herself in the continental judo scene.

"When she started, Demos was the only girl in the judo club but at a young age she was not intimidated by the boys," Dassering said. "I felt in her someone who wanted to push the boundaries."

(Reporting by Mahamat Ramamdane; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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