Audrey Tcheuméo does not seize her chance, in her remote duel for the last Olympic ticket in French judo

A place for two

Audrey Tcheuméo does not seize her chance, in her remote duel for the last Olympic ticket in French judo

A place for two. This is the terrible and implacable logic of French judo, forced to field only one judoka per category at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Who from Madeleine Malonga, Olympic vice-champion in Tokyo, or Audrey Tcheuméo, bronze medalist in London and silver in Rio, will tread the carpets of the Arena Champ de Mars, the kimono embroidered with a rooster?

While the tickets for the other categories have already been distributed, the French selectors declared themselves unable to decide between the two -78 kg: "The selection committee lasted more than five hours, working to observe all the competitions, all the fights, all the statistics of these two athletes from the world championships in Tashkent in 2022, said Christophe Massina, the manager of the French women's team. We arrived at a perfect equality: 40% success in tournaments, 60% of matches won for both, an identical number of matches won or lost against world or Olympic medalists! ".

A real headache which pushed the selection committee to postpone its verdict until April, the time to evaluate the performances of the two fighters on the world circuit. To decide between them, the confrontation took the form of a duel... at a distance. The two women are lined up for two separate Grand Slams: Tbilisi (Georgia), on March 24, for Adurey Tcheuméo, Antalya (Turkey), on March 31, for Madeleine Malonga. A sort of “golden score” in which the slightest mark, the slightest result, will be able to tip the scales.

Defeat in quarter-finals

Audrey Tcheuméo (5th in the world) opened the dance on Sunday, a sword of Damocles above her head: since her defeat in penalties against her rival on February 4, in the repechage for the Grand Slam in Paris, the native of Bondy ( Seine-Saint-Denis) knew the decisive Georgian deadline.

But the -78 kg vice-world champion saw her chances of victory slip away in the quarter-finals, after losing to the Ukrainian Yelizaveta Lytvynenko (20 years old, 13th in the world). In a prolonged match that hardly suited him, Tcheuméo received three penalties, synonymous with disqualification (hansoku make) against an uninspired, but initiative opponent.

In the repechage table, after an express victory on the ground against the Slovenian Metka Lobnik (15th in the world, 22 years old), the Parisian crossed paths with the German Alina Boehm, reigning European champion (7th in the world, 25 years old). ). A benchmark fight, capable of weighing heavily in the balance at the time of the selection committee.

Despite a convincing start, where she imposed a high guard, Audrey Tcheuméo paid for her drop in pace. A counter from his opponent, strangely rolled into a sacrifice technique, finally sealed his fate in the golden score. When the waza-ari was announced, the Frenchwoman crouched down, her eyes a little haggard, aware that her Olympic dreams were becoming more complex.

This fifth place in Georgia could actually precipitate the outcome of the standoff. A hard blow for the 33-year-old judoka, who had completed her return to the highest level in 2022-2023, after a long slump. Last May, she almost became world champion again, twelve years after her first title (2011), at the end of a clinical course. But the judoka has since marked time.

At the same time, Madeleine Malonga (11th in the world) has regained the consistency that she has lacked since the 2022 Worlds, finishing third in the Grand Slam in Paris this winter and second in the Masters in August. It is she, from now on, who holds the destiny of the French -78 kg in her hands: "I will give my life in this competition", assured the person concerned to L'Equipe, before tackling the Antalya Grand Slam where she will find a good number of her compatriot's opponents.

The federal selection committee should meet at the beginning of April to award the qualifying ticket for Paris 2024. Unless the European Championships in Zagreb (Croatia) from April 25 to 28, are retained as the final denominator of an equation with variables Olympics.