The Guadeloupe colossus
By the time he was 23, Teddy Riner was already the most successful judo heavyweight in history. With five world titles already under his belt, his finest triumph to date came at London 2012, where he was crowned Olympic champion.
A heavyweight among heavyweights When he walked onto the judo mat at London’s ExCeL arena on 3 August 2012 to begin his second bid for Olympic gold, heavyweight Teddy Riner was still just 23. Since moving up to the elite category in 2007, and while continuing to dominate the junior events, the 130kg judoka, who stands 2.03 metres tall, had suffered only two defeats and had won the world title an unprecedented five times in a row. Inspired by the white-hot atmosphere at the ExCeL, and cheered on by his army of fans, Riner picked off his rivals one by one, as they were simply unable to launch attacks on their formidable opponent and invariably ended up incurring penalties. Such was the fate of his opponent in the final, Russia’s Alexander Mikhaylin, who amid great excitement was handed three penalties to give Riner victory by waza-ari, earning the Frenchman the one major title missing from his résumé.
A near spotless recordBorn in Les Abymes in Guadeloupe, Riner moved to the Paris region with his family when he was a baby and took up judo at the age of six. The coaches he came into contact with in his inexorable rise to the top helped him develop the kind of agility and speed of movement rarely seen in a heavyweight judoka. A European and world junior champion in 2006, the following year he won his first senior world crown in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the youngest world champion in history when he defeated Japan’s 2000 Olympic champion Kosei Inoue. He followed up that triumph by winning the world open title in Levallois (FRA) in 2008. Still only 19, he was the favourite for the gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, but lost in the third round to Abdullo Tangriev of Uzbekistan. After fighting his way through the repechage rounds he eventually won bronze. Further world heavyweight titles followed in Rotterdam (NED) in 2009 and Tokyo in 2010, though in the latter of those competitions he lost the final of the open weight class on a golden score to Japan’s Daiki Kamikawa. As of July 2013, Tangriev and Kamikawa remained the only two judokas to have beaten the Frenchman at senior level.
High five in ParisOne of France’s most popular sports personalities, the charismatic Riner won a record fifth world title on 27 August 2011 at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, where a partisan local crowd of over 20,000 gathered to watch the 22-year-old win all his fights by ippon, including the final against Germany’s Andreas Tolzer. Twelve months later in London he followed up by pocketing Olympic gold, the most prestigious of his triumphs to date, but almost certainly not the last.