Tokyo Olympics: Teddy Riner’s risky bet

Four fights, until the final. The challenge that awaits Teddy Riner is immense, on the road to a formidable feat: to glean a third consecutive gold medal at the Olympic Games, and moreover at Nippon Budokan, the temple of Japanese judo. Did he come out of his first laps, Friday July 30 between 4 and 7 a.m., against the Austrian Stephan Hegyi, bronze medalist at the European Championships in 2018, then possibly the Israeli Or Sasson, his victim in the semi -final of the 2016 Olympics in Rio?

Five years ago, for the second of his Olympic titles, the question would not have arisen: the Guadeloupe, eight times world champion at the time (he added a ninth and tenth title in 2017) and five times champion Europe, was then unbeaten in 140 matches. But the situation has changed a lot.

Two unusual defeats

The national heavyweight took an eighteen-month cut in 2017, dropping from 140 kg, his competition tonnage, to nearly 170 kg. This overload, the champion struggled to get rid of and deprived him of part of his crazy energy in the months following his recovery, in 2019. Until this double thunderclap in 2020, when the undisputed master of the tatami mats lost in the third round of the Paris Masters and then again in the quarterfinals of the French interclub championships against a modest training partner.

The announcement of the postponement of the Olympic Games was almost fatal to the motivation of the 30-something who saw his chances of becoming the second judoka in the world fly away, after the Japanese Tadahiro Nomura, to string together three Olympic titles in a row. It was his companion, Luthna Plocus, who convinced him to persevere, tells a documentary from France Télévisions (1). “Your whole family saw you win except Isis” (the youngest, born during the cut), she told him.

Serious injury six months before the Games

This documentary also revealed that the invincible Teddy Riner was stupidly injured in late February in training in Morocco. With a partially torn cruciate ligament in the knee, two months’ rest was required, jeopardizing a year of labor. Kept under wraps for months, information about the injury was only revealed at the very last moment, just before the Games.

Why then did you talk about it? And has the judo giant fully recovered? Answer this Friday, July 30, day of universal glory or sadness. The person concerned has lifted a corner of the veil from our colleagues at AFP, to whom he has reserved his only confidences since his arrival in Japan. “Of course, from time to time, my knee hurts, but that doesn’t prevent me from training, it doesn’t prevent me from going to the end of myself”, he assured, giving food for thought to opponents.

This was undoubtedly the desired goal. Do they have an interest in rushing this knee deemed weak? Or has Teddy Riner simply sought to play with the minds of his rivals, by highlighting an alleged weakness that is no longer a weakness? It is the puzzle of his opponents, in particular Hisayoshi Harasawa that the Frenchman could find in the final, like five years ago in Rio. The Japanese want his revenge and wants to offer his country, inventor of judo, a gold medal.

His glorious elder triple Olympic champion Tadahiro Nomura diplomatically declared to the international press that “Teddy Riner remained an enigma for his compatriots”. Adding in the documentary “The Quest” that he would refrain from applauding him in the event of victory against a Japanese, but would manage to congratulate him behind the scenes for having joined him at the top of the Olympus of judokas.


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