Teddy Riner, France’s unstoppable judo champion
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French judo heavyweight Teddy Riner claimed his sixth consecutive world championship this weekend in Russia, confirming his current dominance in the over 100kg division. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the man who has become a legend, aged just 25.
Easily sailing through to the tournament hosted in the north-central Russian city of Chelyabinsk, Riner came up against Japanese star Ryu Shichinohe in the final on Saturday. It was not a spectacular showdown, with Shichinohe averting Riner’s attacks by laying down on three occasions.
The Japanese judoka’s strategy almost paid off as Riner (pronounced Reener) became visibly frustrated and barely avoided a takedown with 45 seconds left on the clock.
The shrewd approach employed by Shichinohe was, in the end, futile, but the result made evident what was already clear to the other athletes and spectators: no one can beat Riner.
According to Dr. Mike Callan, an international judo expert and author of Judo Foundation Skills, there was little doubt about the outcome of the title match, even if Riner has recently come back from a shoulder injury.
“A normal human being would have struggled after returning from surgery,” Callan said. “But Riner is so far ahead of anybody in that category. Everyone thought he would take home the gold.”
Riner has already attained a legendary status in the world of judo, and if he can win another gold medal in Rio in two years time, he could become France’s undisputed all-time best.
World champion at 18
Riner, who is 6’8” (2.04m) tall and weighs in at 131kg, was born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but grew up with his family in the Paris region. As a kid he showed talent for a handful of sports, but took a decisive step toward judo at the age of 15.
He first exploded onto the international judo scene at the 2007 World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, where he beat Russian judoka Tamerlan Tmenov – then a four-time European champion 12 years Riner’s senior – to claim gold.
The following year he won bronze at the Beijing Olympics, before racking up four world championships in as many years, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.
In a sport in which athletes are expected to keep utmost poise in defeat as in victory, “Teddy” is also famous for wearing his heart on his judogi. He is known for lifting coaches over his head after victories and raging at judges for alleged bad calls.
“After all the hours of training I’ve put in, of constantly questioning myself, when I win a medal I just want to explode with joy,” he told FRANCE 24 in a 2012 interview. “I am not trying to put on a show, I just want to savour those moments of victory.”
Can he keep winning?
Despite all his accomplishments, Riner must still face constant comparisons with another French judo great in the +100kg division: David Douillet, a four-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who now serves as a French MP.
In the strict hierarchical world of judo, comparing a retired “master” like Douillet to the younger Riner is out of the question.
However, securing a second Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, would leave little doubt about Riner’s superiority.
According to Dr. Callan, it’s entirely possible for Riner to continue at the top of the heavyweight category up to the next Olympic Games and even past.
“Very often people who have experienced a lot of success burn out by 25, but I don’t see that with Riner,” the judo expert said. “It’s not only that heavyweights can usually stay at the top longer. His coaching staff has kept him grounded.”
“It’s not easy to balance the confidence he needs to combat with a humble spirit, but Riner has had masterful training.”