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By the time he turned 23, Teddy Riner was already a five-time world champion and the most successful heavyweight judoka in history, and he cemented his status by winning Olympic gold at London 2012.
The 23-year-old Teddy Riner was a firm favourite to win Olympic heavyweight judo gold when he stepped onto the mat at London 2012. Weighing in at 130kg and standing 2.03 metres tall, the imposing Frenchman had been beaten just twice since moving up to the elite category in 2007, and had won the world title an unprecedented five times in a row.
Inspired by the white-hot atmosphere in London’s ExCeL Centre and cheered on by his army of fans, Riner picked off his rivals, who incurred penalty after penalty for their inability to attack their formidable foe. After cruising through to the final, he beat Russia’s Alexander Mikhaylin by waza-ari to secure the one major title missing from his career résumé.
Born in Les Abymes in Guadeloupe, Riner moved to the Paris region with his family when he was still a baby and took up judo at the age of six. On his inexorable rise to the top he developed the kind of agility and speed of movement rarely seen in a heavyweight judoka.
A European junior champion in 2006, Riner became the youngest ever world senior champion in Rio de Janeiro the following year, beating Sydney 2000 gold medallist Kosei Inoue of Japan in the final.
He followed that feat up by landing the world open title in Levallois in 2008. Still only 19, he was the favourite for the gold medal at the Beijing Games 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 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 the end of 2014, Tangriev and Kamikawa are the only men to have beaten the Frenchman at senior level.
One of France’s most popular sports personalities, the charismatic Riner won a record fifth world title in August 2011 at the Palais Omnisports in Paris, where a crowd of over 20,000 gathered to watch him win all his fights by ippon, including the final against Germany’s Andreas Tolzer.
He continued his domination of the global scene after London 2012, beating Brazil’s Rafael Silva to win a sixth heavyweight world crown in Rio de Janeiro in August 2013, and then adding a seventh a year later in Chelyabinsk (RUS), where he saw off Japan’s Ryu Sichinohe to win gold. In doing so he joined Japanese legend Ryoko Tani as the most successful judoka – male or female – of all time.
With many years on the mat still ahead of him and with Rio 2016 coming into view, Riner has serious designs on becoming the greatest judo fighter of them all.