Paris 2024: China’s Shi Yijie leaves behind home comforts in quest for Para judo gold

Following a breakthrough 2023, China's Shi Yijie is aiming for glory at the Paris 2024 Paralympics 01 May 2024
Two female judokas in action
Shi Yijie is currently ranked world No. 1 in the women's J1 -57kg division.
By AMP Media | For IPC

Until a little more than a year ago, Chinese judoka Shi Yijie had never competed outside her homeland. But her journey to Paris 2024 began a long way from home. 

A decade after taking up Para judo, Shi is preparing to make her Paralympic debut in the French capital.

“I will try my best to win in Paris, to stand on the podium, see the flag fly and hear the national anthem. I want to live up to the support of my country and coaches, but also realise my own dream,” Shi said. 

Far from home

Shi, who was born in Chenzhou, Hunan province, says discovering Para judo changed her life after she developed retinitis pigmentosa – a group of rare eye diseases that affect the retina – at a young age.

She was introduced to Para judo by a coach from the local federation of Para sports who was looking for athletes with potential to participate in Para judo.

“I became night blind at the age of five to six, completely blind at the age of 12 and felt uncomfortable and very insecure,” she said. “After joining judo, I could train with like-minded people. Sport and friends made my happier.

“Judo changed my life.”

Shi was introduced to Para judo at the age of 13. @IBSA Judo/IJF

However, there was just one catch. The Chaohui Sports Training Centre for Chinese athletes with disabilities was in the provincial capital of Changsha, a four-hour drive from her home. This meant Shi had to move away from home, only returning for long weekends and special holidays.

“I felt unfamiliar in a new environment,” Shi recalled. “Fortunately, I was able to talk to my family on the phone and received encouragement from teammates.”

Shi had one goal when she took to the judo mat: “To reach the very highest level”. This meant she could throw herself into her judo training beginning at 6 a.m.

But even for somebody with Shi’s work ethic, practising and competing in Para judo comes with certain challenges. When she trains, her coach Li Yuehua will describe actions and techniques while an instructor simulates them. Shi feels the movements with her hands so she can imagine and imitate them.

“The difference with the sighted judo is that we are not able to see our fighters and winning scores, only rely on sense,” she said. 


A breakthrough year

While she trains for more than seven hours each day, taking what she has learned into the competitive arena is another matter entirely. It was not until 2023 that Shi shot to prominence on the international stage. 

In 2014, she finished third in China’s national championships for athletes with vision impairment. In 2019, she won gold at the 10th National Games for Persons with Disabilities in the 63kg class, repeating the feat in 2021 in the 57kg category.

“If I could give my younger self any advice at the start of her judo journey, I would say train harder, participate in international competitions earlier and get in line with the world judo level,” she said. 

A decade after taking up the sport, Shi achieved international success in 2023. She won golds at the World Blind Judo Grand Prix events Cairo, Egypt and Baku, Azerbaijan, while she also topped the podium at the IBSA (International World Blind Sport Federation) World Games in Birmingham, England.

Shi then capped it all off with another gold in October at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou in October.

“I felt worried about not performing well in my own country, then the release of pressure after winning,” Shi said, admitting that this pressure will only increase as the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games approaches.

“There are various pressures, such as the pressure to control my weight and the pressure of being on a bigger stage and performing well.”


One step at a time

Shi’s success continued into 2024 with gold at the IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Heidelberg, Germany, in February. The Paris 2024 Paralympics, which will open on 28 August, will feature 16 medal events in Para judo. 

While Shi feels expectations growing, she says her goal is to take “one step at a time” and enjoy the moment in Paris, more than 9,000 km from home.

“For the upcoming Games, I will take it one step at a time,” Shi said. “Focus on performing well each game, and not let myself have any regrets. If you enjoy the competition, then you will get good results.”

After claiming just a single bronze medal at Tokyo 2020, China’s Para judokas are supporting each other so they can finish higher on the medals table this summer.

“Everyone is actively preparing for the Games every day, encouraging each other and actively promoting the passion of teammates,” Shi said. 

With less than 120 days until Paris 2024, she is imagining what her Paralympic debut would be like. How would she feel to win gold after winning the final with an ippon?

“Happy and triumphant to finally finish this game,” she said.


Book your tickets for the Paralympic Games by visiting the Paris 2024 ticketing website.