Italian-born judo star who won Olympic medals for France and Great Britain
Angelo Parisi won a total of four Olympic medals, more than any other judoka in history, and he did so representing both Great Britain and France!
Rugby’s loss means judo’s gain
Born in the small Italian village of Arpino, half way between Rome and Naples, Angelo Parisi was just three when his family moved to England. “At school there, you did sport for 15 hours every week, so I got to do a bit of everything,” he recalled. He excelled at rugby, helping his school win the national school championships, but he also displayed a talent for judo and the shotput. Having developed an imposing physique, Angelo realised his greatest potential was a martial artist, and at the age of 15 decided to focus entirely on judo, taking just 11 months to earn his black belt!
A British champion
Parisi became the English junior (1968, 1969 1971 and 1973), youth (1970), and then senior champion (1973, 1974, 1975) in both the half-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, before going on to be crowned European champion at youth (1970, 1971) and senior (1972, 1973, 1974) levels. Aged just 19, he was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. His coaches decided to enter him into the open category where he was the lightest judoka in the competition. Beaten in the semi-final by France’s Jean-Claude Brondani, he fought his way through the repechage rounds to earn a tilt at the bronze medal, proving too strong for his opponent Douglas Rodgers of Canada.
Crossing the Channel for love
In 1974, Parisi married a French woman and relocated to the other side of the Channel. He was unable to compete at 1976 Games in Montreal as he was still in the process of becoming a French citizen. However, he soon claimed the first of six European titles under the French flag (three of which were won in all categories), to go with three victories in the prestigious Paris Tournament.
Seoi-otoshi in Moscow
In the imposing surrounds of the Lenin Stadium’s Palace of Sport in Moscow, venue for the judo at the 1980 Olympic Games, Parisi was in imperious form. On 27 July he won each of his contests in the heavyweight division by ippon, but he saved his best for the final against Bulgaria’s Dimitar Zaprianov, who was a full 40kg heavier than him. With less than a minute to go, Parisi executed a superb seoi-otoshi, a complex shoulder throw, to put his opponent onto the mat. In doing so, he became the first Frenchman to win an Olympic judo gold, just a few days ahead of Thierry Rey, who repeated the feat in the -60kg. And on 2 August, Parisi went on to add a silver in the open category competition.
Flying the flag for France in LA
A model athlete in every way, Parisi was chosen to carry the flag for the French delegation at the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. “It was incredible! It was every bit as emotional as being crowned Olympic champion!” he recalled. “When you go onto the track everyone gets up to salute you. I was the first French athlete to enter the track. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” He is also unlikely to forget the heavyweight final in which he came up against Japan’s Hitoshi Saito. After an evenly matched contest, Parisi managed to fell his opponent just the gong sounded to end the bout, and had to content himself with silver. That was his fourth podium finish in three editions of the Games, making him the most medalled male judoka in Olympic history, and his tally has yet to be matched.
An enduring passion
Parisi competed for the last time in 1985, at the age of 32, but he continued his love affair with the tatami, as a coach for the French national team, helping to mentor the likes of Olympic gold medallists Djamel Bouras and David Douillet. And in 2010, he gained his 8th Dan, entitling him to wear the rare red and black belt, just as yet another French heavyweight, Teddy Riner was continuing the proud tradition that Parisi had first established four decades earlier.