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“Success Fascinates Me” - Yvo Witassek studies cognitive science and is a top judo athlete

Yvo Witassek
Witassek (l.) beim Training in der MBS-Arena.
Photo : Kevin Ryl
Yvo Witassek was among the students honored at the 2023 Sports Reception.
Photo : Kevin Ryl
Witassek (left) training at the MBS-Arena.

A muffled bang sounds in the hall as Yvo Witassek throws his opponent to the ground. No wonder, because the two judoka train in the weight class over 100 kilograms. As calm and light-footed as their movements look, the two martial artists have sweat on their foreheads after just a few minutes.

Witassek recently won the German student heavyweight championship title. In the fall of 2022, the German University Championships celebrated a brilliant comeback in Potsdam after a two-year break due to the pandemic. Almost 400 student judoka from 91 universities took part, and hundreds of people enthusiastically followed the championship, which was hosted by the University of Potsdam in the MBS Arena at Luftschiffhafen. “I wouldn’t have thought that it would be so popular,” says Witassek. “Normally judo is not very present in the media.” He competed in the final against David Haefner from the Technical University of Dresden - and won.

The 21-year-old has been studying for a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science at the University of Potsdam since the winter semester of 2021/22. However, he doesn’t have much time for lectures: In the mornings and afternoons, he is at Luftschiffhafen as a judoka, and Witassek trains five to six hours a day at the UJKC Potsdam club. During the season, he also travels to competitions at least every other weekend and attends training camps. “I have to see if the coach will give me time off for a seminar or lecture every now and then,” Witassek says wistfully. This semester he is only at the university on Mondays and is completing two modules.

However, the university society also knows how challenging it is to combine studying and competitive sports - and awarded Witassek the 2021 Dual Career Young Talent Award. He hadn’t expected the award at all: “I had only just enrolled at the university. But it was a little encouragement right at the start of my studies.” In his studies, his athletic career is less of a focus: He has not yet met any students who participate in competitive sports like he does. However, some lecturers take his special situation into account and allow him to make up exams. Now and then, he also benefits from the disadvantage compensation. Although the pandemic “ruined a lot” for him athletically, it was also advantageous for his studies. He was able to catch up on online lectures at any time; since the return to classroom teaching, he only receives the slides from courses. “I definitely won’t finish my degree in the standard time frame,” says Witassek. As a result, he also lacks contact with fellow students. After all, the students he started with are now quite a bit ahead of him. “That’s not so nice.” Friendships do develop in the club, however; after all, the judoka there spend a lot of time together.

The career counselor at his judo club had pointed him toward the cognitive science major. The assessment tests he took on his recommendation showed that the subject could be a good fit for him. The choice of where to study wasn’t difficult either, because as a member of the national squad, he is obliged to train here at the sports center in Potsdam. Although the Potsdam native could have commuted to Berlin for university, he now has more time for training and university because of the short commute. “I also chose the course of study because it was clear to me that I didn’t want to do anything else with sports later on,” the 21-year-old explains. “It’s easier to realize a dual career in college than in a job. That’s when a lot of judoka quit.” But Witassek still has a lot of plans until then. At the moment he is fighting in the under 23 division, followed by the men’s division. “That’s where it gets interesting. My goal is to medal in big international tournaments for men.”

Witassek started playing sports at the tender age of five, following the advice of his parents: “I was probably a very active child, and that’s when my parents decided I had to do sports.” His mother was against boxing, so his father brought in judo. And Witassek stuck with it. “I got hooked on success,” he says. Even at the age of seven or eight, he participated in children’s competitions and won. “That motivated me.”

The secret of his success? Witassek believes it’s talent - and a lot of hard work. “My training plan is very extensive.” And he sticks to it, even if his studies sometimes come up shorter than he would like. The competitive athlete also takes care not to injure himself. After all, accidents before major tournaments all too often get in the way of the dream of a medal. He is most proud of his title at the 2021 World Junior Judo Championships. At the beginning of the year, he was still injured and had changed weight classes shortly before. And then won the bronze medal in Italy.