Skip to content

Improve your Gippslandia browsing experience by using Chrome or Safari.

Contribute to Gippslandia and support positive local storytelling. — donate here

Connecting Gippsland through
positive storytelling.

Shop GippslandiaSupport Gippslandia

Connecting Gippsland through positive storytelling.


Aoife Coughlan.

An interview with judo star, Aoife Coughlan before she won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham!

Aug 11, 2022

Words: Gippslandia
Images: Supplied

Contribute to support more positive local storytelling.


“Judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment.” — Kanō Jigorō, judo’s founder.

Aoife Coughlan’s path to judo was seemingly being laid before she was even born, with her parents meeting while practicing judo at university in Ireland.

Judo, meaning ‘the way of gentleness’, is a system of close combat derived from the ju-jitsu family of Japanese martial arts. It involves using holds and leverage to unbalance the opponent, and the objective of competitive judo is to throw an opponent, immobilize them with a pin, or force an opponent to submit with a joint lock or a choke. A key philosophy in judo is the “maximum efficient use of energy”. The judo uniform is called "judogi” and someone who practices judo is a "judoka" – a title Aoife was soon to earn.

“I’m still very passionate about the sport and chasing my dream of an Olympic medal.”

Subscribe to Gippslandia

Upon moving to Australia, the Coughlans conveniently established their home near a judo club. Aoife’s two older brothers became judoka alongside their parents, and given she grew up idolising them all, it was only natural that Aoife would follow them onto the mat. Her sister, Maeve, would join the rest of the family as soon as she was old enough too.

“... some 20 years later, I’m still very passionate about the sport and chasing my dream of an Olympic medal.”

Aoife isn’t alone; two of her siblings, Eoin and Maeve, are also striving to represent Australia at the highest level.

For this 27-year-old, who was born and raised in Traralgon, judo will always be a lot more than just a sport.

“It has taught me so much about myself and has been a huge part of shaping the person that I am today. I’m lucky that values such as courage, respect, modesty, friendship, honour, honesty, self-control and courtesy are ingrained in its teachings.”

Aoife began representing Australia in 2010 when she first qualified for the World Junior Championships in Morocco, aged 15. She’s since progressed through the Cadet (U18) and Junior (U21) competitions to the senior Australian team.

“I had some success as a junior and was starting to achieve results internationally as a senior during 2019 into the early parts of 2020, before Covid hit.

“My breakout performances came in 2021 after the lockdowns. I achieved a fifth at the World Masters (the most prestigious event for judo behind the Olympics and the World Championships), a third at the Asia-Oceania Championships, a seventh place at the World Championships and qualified directly for my debut Olympic Games.”

The roll continued with Aoife earning a fifth at a European Open event in Sarajevo, followed by fifth at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, where she beat the 2020 Tokyo Olympics silver medallist. Then there was a bronze at the Prague European Open, followed up by a bronze in both the individual and team events at the Pan-America/Oceania Championships in Peru.

With a sterling string of results like that, Aoife has been selected as part of a 12-person Australian Judo squad for the XXII Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this August.

“For me, there’s no greater honour than being able to represent Australia at the highest level. The 2021 World Championships was a special day for me because I cemented my direct qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Competing at the Olympics was a surreal experience, both very familiar and very nerve-racking. My experience there has made me even more motivated to push myself onto that podium in Paris in 2024.”

Aoife says that to be a top-level judoka you need to be physically strong, have explosive power, be agile and very fit. You also have to be mentally strong. Aoife adds that, “The mental side of judo is just as difficult as the physical side. You have to be able to problem solve on the fly, as sometimes the fight plan doesn’t go as you expect and you need to [quickly] adapt.”

To achieve that level of skill, strength and rapid strategic flexibility, Aoife trains twice per day, six days per week. Her sessions are a mixture of strength and conditioning, Judo-specific technical drills and randori sessions (randori is the equivalent of sparring for boxing). She also undertakes rehabilitation and recovery sessions throughout the week to keep her body healthy. Regular sleep patterns and enjoyable downtime away from judo are also crucial to keeping Aoife mentally sharp.

Outside of life on the mat, Aoife is studying a Bachelor of Exercise Science (Clinical Practice) at Victoria University, with the view of diving into a Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has previously completed a double-degree in Exercise Science (Human Movement)/Sport and Recreation Management.

Aoife works part-time in the gym she trains at, doing gym administration and reception work, as well as some judo and CrossFit coaching. The spare time that Aoife gets to enjoy is spent reading, watching TV, hanging with her friends and indulging in some word, number or jigsaw puzzles.

When asked what advice she’d share with other Gippslandian youngsters who may wish to follow her steps to the highest levels of competition, Aoife says that, “there’s no magic potion to success. It takes hard work, dedication and consistency.”

Aoife says that her judo career to this point has taught her mental and physical resiliency, as well as self-confidence and belief in her abilities.

“If you want something and are willing to work for it with no compromises, you’re capable of achieving your goals. It has also taught me the importance of having a good support network – coaches, family, friends – surrounding me.”

Things like this year’s Victorian Sports Award nominations are “very nice surprises” for Aoife, as she sees it as recognition for all the hard work her entire team has put into her career thus far.

Post-competitive judo, Aoife can see herself staying close to the sport in a support role, possibly as a coach, but until then, she’s got a clear goal, one that’s been driving her since she was young.

“Ever since I met Sydney 2000 Olympic Judo bronze medallist Maria Pekli, my dream has been to win an Olympic medal.

“This hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older; the hunger and drive for that medal has just gotten stronger and the goal has become more realisable. Before I finish competitive judo I want to have a medal at either the Olympics or the World Championships, preferably both.”

Right now, with the world at her feet, Aoife’s goal is amazingly attainable.

Aoife would like to say thank you to everyone in Gippsland who supported her during the Olympics.

“My parents kept me updated with all of the support I was receiving while I was away and I’m very grateful for it.

“I’d also like to say a huge ‘thank you!’ to my first Judo clubs, Traralgon Budokan and Yinnar & District Judo. They gave me a wonderful foundation in judo and fostered my love for the sport.”

Gippslandia - Issue No. 23

Find, Subscribe or Download

Did you enjoy this article? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram.

More in

    Latrobe City

Share this article


Read this next


Jarrah Dale

Ecologist Jarrah Dale on why they are so inspired by the Mallacoota community and how much... Read more

More in Community


Whatever it takes...

Whatever it takes, that's the spirit of the small town of Thorpdale. Read more

Support Gippslandia

Support from our readers is what keeps the lights on and the printing presses running.


Browse topics

Food & Drink

Explore regions

East Gippsland Shire


Gippslandia is made possible thanks to our supporting partners. They are businesses that believe in the value of sharing optimistic tales from our great region. We encourage you to support them in return, as without them, Gippslandia wouldn’t exist.

About Gippslandia

Gippslandia is a community, non-profit publication. We curate an ever-optimistic take on regional, national and global issues, in a local context. Leaving you feeling like a Gippslandia local, no matter where you’re from. Read more

© 2021 Gippslandia, All rights reserved