JudoCrazy: What’s your background in judo?
Hans van Essen: I have a black belt in judo and I love the sport but I was not good enough to be a world-level player, so I decided to be a world player in another aspect of the sport.
JC: When did you start collecting judo results and why?
HVE: I started when I was 18. Even in my teens I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, so rather than just watching judo events, I wanted to know also know more about the players, what their previous results were, who they won against, who they lost against and so on. This all started as a journalistic endeavor.
JC: How did JudoInside come about?
HVE: In 1992, I gathered information from my database of results and turned it into a judo yearbook. It cost quite a lot of money back then to do a book for a sport that’s quite niche. But it was the foundation for which I would eventually build JudoInside, which came about in March 2002. By then, it made sense to harness the power of the Internet.
JC: Is JudoInside updated automatically via some feed, perhaps from the IJF? Or is it updated manually or at least partially so?
HVE: Everything sits in a database which allows me to automatically generate things like the popular Head To Head results. But the raw results still have to be entered manually. I know it sounds stupid to have to do that in this day and age but there aren’t many resources that can deliver structured data from judo competitions, which can deliver consistent spelling for names of players and so on. So, if you try to automate it you will end up having to manually inspect all the results and manually fixing the mistakes one by one. In the end, it’s much better to do it right in the first place, which unfortunately means manual data entry.
JC: Much of what you do can be done from your home. How much travelling to judo competitions do you do?
HVE: You don’t necessarily need to be at an event to capture the results or even to cover it. In fact, there are a lot of distractions when you are at an event. But I do still travel to competitions – about one per month – mainly to catch up with people and do some networking. It’s always a pleasure to speak to athletes, many of whom use JudoInside to keep track of their own results as well as those of their rivals.
JC: How much time do you spend on your site?
HVE: I’d say an average of 10 hours per day. It’s not just about inputting results but also checking and making sure there is consistency. Sometimes players get married and their surname changes. And then you’ve got the Koreans, the Mongolians and the Chinese whose names can be spelled in many ways. Sometimes it’s not clear which are their surnames and which are their personal names. I’ve also got to keep track of the latest World Rankings, I’ve got photos to upload and tag. Videos too. And then there’s the news updates. Lots of things to do!
JC: Why isn’t a person like you working for the IJF?
HVE: Ha… ha… that’s a question for the IJF. Look, they have a top-notch media team, so I don’t think they are lacking in anything there. But I think I can add value in other ways. What I’ve done with JudoInside is there for all to see.
JC: Surely JudoInside is not the only work you do. What else do you do to make a living?
HVE: I work for a sports data company, Opta Sports, selling all kinds of sports data to the media. I also provide some technical analysis to judo federations in some countries. I can’t disclose who but I can say that I work with some of the top judo nations in the world. They need information and data analysis to make informed decision on player selection, budgeting and so on. I help provide the analysis for that.
JC: In recent years we have seen the emergence of lots of online video resources for judo. But there still isn’t a lot of news resources. Why do you think that is so?
HVE: I think in the world of judo, much of the news resources are very localized – focused on news for a particular region and published in their own languages. If you want to talk about truly international judo news resources published in English, I think there are not many. I try to fill that vacuum with JudoInside but I’m still not satisfied with what I’ve done so far. There’s still more to do.
JC: Who are the players today that you find most exciting?
HVE: Among the men, Zantaraia (UKR), Iliadis (GRE), Toth (HUN), Gonzalez (CUB). For the women, Matsumoto (JPN), Gerbi (ISR), Trstenjak (SLO). I have to say though, like many others, I’m very impressed with the Japanese and the South Koreans. They seem to have a top-notch team going into Rio 2016. The former has got Takato, Ebinuma, Ono, while the latter has got the two An’s (Baul and Changrim) and Gwak. As I'm Dutch, I have some favorites from the Netherlands as well such as Noel van 't End and Frank de Wit. The Dutch have some medal potential in Rio, I think."
JC: Will you be in Rio 2016?
HVE: Interesting question but one that I have no answer yet. I can do more work monitoring from home but my heart says I must go back to Rio where I was in 2007 and 2013 (for the World Championships). Let’s see!
JC: What keeps you going?
HVE: What I’m doing has real value to a lot of people. Many athletes actually grew up with JudoInside, from the time they were youths to where they are now today, competing at the top senior level. The best feeling is when I’m at some event and the athletes tell me how much they appreciate the work I do. Call me “Judo Crazy” because I’ll always be doing this.