TU/e student Niels Thijssen takes judo gold at national champs

He was pretty nervous when he stepped onto the mat at the Dutch Judo Championships, held in Almere last weekend. Niels Thijssen, third-year student of Industrial Engineering, was competing in the weight class up to 73 kilograms. Having broken his thumb four weeks previously, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Now, as the winner, he looks back on the match with a “super cool feeling”.

photo Paul van der Ree

On paper Niels Thijssen had a good chance of winning the title, but his preparations for the National Championships weren't ideal because a month before the competition – “doing judo, of course” – he broke his thumb. A second disappointment was having to give up his place at the Combat Games in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to another judoka. “That would have been such a cool trip, but because the team tournament is not as important as taking part in the Nationals, I decided to rest my thumb. The Nationals are where the selection for the coming year is made. Now, as the Dutch champion, I can safely assume that I'll be taking part in the international competitions held in 2024.”


Logistics plays a big role in Thijssen's judo life, as it does in his academic studies. He was clearly interested in Industrial Engineering, but the presence of the regional training center for judo in Eindhoven gave added appeal to his choice of degree program. Thijssen got digs in Eindhoven, studied at TU/e, and trained at the facilities on Aalsterweg. That was his academic year ‘20-‘21.

“But then the Judo Federation was restructured and the training sessions were moved to Nijmegen. By then I was enjoying my degree too much to give it up, so I moved back in with my parents in Boxmeer. Now I can take the train to both the university and the sports hall, and if need be, there's a family car I can use.” At the moment, Thijssen is completing his bachelor's with an internship at VTS, a transport logistics company, based, very conveniently, in Boxmeer.


In the three years that the judoka has been studying at TU/e he has seldom needed to use his status as an elite athlete. “At the start of a quartile, I explain my situation to the course coordinators. I send them an email listing the lesson blocks I'm likely to be unable to attend, and asking how I can catch up with that work, and what else I should do to keep up. I've seen that lecturers appreciate this constructive attitude; and they come up with solutions. It's not easy, doing the degree alongside the daily training. I can never put off doing something because I don't feel like it. I'm always busy. But I know my reasons for taking all this on, and that's how I'm able to keep going.”


“Every elite athlete dreams of the Olympic Games, as I do,” says Thijssen. He is aiming for the Los Angeles games in 2028, a goal that has been brought closer by his victory in Almere. “But first of all, I want to do well enough in the international competitions to secure a place at the European Judo Championships for the under 23s.”

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