As if winning the 2014 Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship during her first year at black belt wasn’t enough for Swede Janni Larsson, she also earned the 2014 World Championship black belt middleweight title–all while studying as a medical student.
The one thing about Janni that stands out against most black belt competitors is her excitement when she wins. While most would be proud of their accomplishment and celebrate with the idea that a goal was accomplished, Janni allows those in the audience to join in on her excitement. As the clock showed the seconds wind down in her final match against Vanessa Oliveira on Sunday, June 1, she looked at the score as the advantages were in her favor and her eyes grew wide and her smile took over her entire face. It looked like someone had just told her she won the lottery. She was surprised, excited, grateful and in awe that she overcame the top females in the sport to earn her place at the top of the podium. And her jumps for joy (which she doesn’t even remember doing) were true showings of emotion.
Perhaps even more impressive with Janni is that her time in Copenhagen, Denmark, away from her family in the neighboring Sweden, is spent mostly on her studies. The medical student attends the University of Copenhagen and her time spent training at Arte Suave is less of a priority than the training she completed to earn her world title.
Learn more about her impressive wins, the injury she had to overcome during her matches at the Worlds and the real priorities in her life:
GRACIEMAG: Tell me about your run at the worlds, both in open weight and in your weight.
JANNI LARSSON: I was really happy for getting the opportunity to fight in the open weight at black belt. In my first fight I met Vanessa Oliveira. It ended up being a sweep-sweep match that went back and forth. I won on points after full time. In my second fight in the open I met Beatriz Mesquita. I had fought her in Abu Dhabi, so I thought I knew what I was in for, but boy was I surprised. Bea had such sharpness to her techniques at Worlds that I did not stand a chance. She danced past my guard and as I turtled to avoid the passing points she caught my arm.
In my weight class I won my first fight with a foot lock after a few minutes. My second match was against Sophia Drysdale. I pulled guard and swept her. My arm was hurting after the armbar, so I didn’t feel safe in Sophia’s guard, especially not when she was gripping my bad arm. When I backed away from Sophia’s guard she stood up, and I could pull again. I managed to do this throughout the fight and won with three sweeps and a few advantages from sweep attempts that ended outside the mat area. In the final I fought Vanessa Oliveira again. This fight was less exciting than our fight in the open, because I was playing it very safe. We double-guard pulled and she came up for the advantage. I worked my x-guard and got advantages for a foot lock and a sweep attempt. When I was ahead on advantages, I tried keeping Vanessa out of balance until time ran out.
What’s the scoop on your arm and how did it affect your performance mentally and physically?
I didn’t want my run at the open class to end as early as it did, so I ended up tapping too late to Bea’s armbar. I have had an operation on the arm Bea caught before and when I heard “CRACK CRACK CRACK”! I knew it was a bad decision not to tap earlier. My elbow grew to twice its original size and the swelling resulted in that I couldn’t bend or straighten the elbow. I had the elbow taped in a 90-degree angle in my fights in the weight class. During the fights up to the final I couldn’t use the arm, so I was very happy that I got an early submission in the first match and that the second girl stood up between sweeps, so I didn’t have to work from the top.
I personally feel that the final would have been much more exciting to watch if I hadn’t hurt my elbow. I was scared of standing up in Vanessa’s spider guard with one unusable arm, so there were situations were I most likely could have swept, but ended up staying on the bottom.
The injury had quite an effect on me mentally. Before I stepped on the mat, I had already lost the fight in my head. When I made it to the final I was sure that I was going to lose. Vanessa and I had a close fight in the open, so I knew my odds weren’t good when I had to fight her with an injured arm. I was happy for making it to the final and was already imagining a silver medal as I stepped onto the mat.
What went through your mind when you realized that you were going to win a black belt world title?
Disbelief. I did not think that I had it in me to win that fight. When there was ten seconds left of the fight I realized that I would win. It was an amazing feeling. A few months ago I never would have dreamed of this. It would have felt like an unreachable fantasy.
What other priorities takes up your time off the mat?
I am studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen, so BJJ is something I only do in my spare time. When I got home after Worlds this year I had less than two weeks to prepare for my exam, so after I landed in Denmark I forgot everything about Jiu-Jitsu and I locked myself in my apartment to study. I am done with my exam now, so I have summer holidays.
How will this world title change your training moving forward?
I don’t think it will have much impact on my training. There are many factors to life that will affect me more than this title. Next semester at university I will start working in the clinic, so I will have less time to train than I have had before. I have come to terms with the fact that Jiu-Jitsu is something I do in my spare time and that there are many things that must be prioritized higher. I will enjoy it for now and in the future winning a world championship will be a good story to tell.
Any new opportunities arisen since the worlds?
I have been offered a few seminars in Europe, which is a great opportunity for me to travel and see new countries.