Judo: a record-breaking Teddy Riner wins once again at the Paris Grand Slam

Teddy Riner is a man of records

Judo: a record-breaking Teddy Riner wins once again at the Paris Grand Slam

Teddy Riner is a man of records. Before attempting this summer for the second time to equal the Japanese Tadahiro Nomura – the only triple Olympic individual judoka – the leader of French judo seized alone, on Sunday February 4, a record that he co-held with Lucie Décosse and, for 24 hours, with Clarisse Agbegnenou crowned a seventh time, Saturday, at the Paris Grand Slam.

“That was the first step to 2024 for me. Now you have to continue to prepare and revise. I gathered information on the opponents and I took points [in the ranking] along the way, even if it is not the most important thing to be better ranked,” he reacted on the microphone of the L’Equipe channel.

During the Paris tournament, a major tatami event, Teddy Riner dominated the compact-sized South Korean Minjong Kim in the final. A clash which played out during the golden score, the Habs finally finding the solution against the tough Kim in the first seconds of “sudden death”. The longevity of the Guadeloupean colossus is historic: he won his first success in Paris almost fifteen years ago to the day, on February 7, 2009.

He was still pushed around a bit in the semi-final and final. “My opponents are making life difficult for me but I’m still here,” he admitted, before focusing on the Olympics. It's good to win here but it's not the goal of the season. »

If this success is good for morale and confirms that we will still have to count on him for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the level of adversity encountered puts its significance into perspective. Because the opposition of the Parisian tournament is not the one that Teddy Riner will find this summer on the carpet of the Arena Champs-de-Mars, opposite the Eiffel Tower.

His main rivals absent

The list of notable absentees was endless among the heavyweights, starting with the Czech Lukas Krpalek and the Georgian Guram Tushishvili, respectively reigning Olympic champion and Olympic vice-champion.

The formidable Russian judokas were also not present: the number 1 in the Olympic ranking, Inal Tasoev, and the Riner winner in Tokyo in 2021, Tamerlan Basoev. No more than the Japanese number 1, Tatsuru Saito, as well as the rising heavyweight, the Finnish Martti Puumalainen, European champion and winner of the Masters in 2023.

During a rather calm day and before the final, Teddy Riner only really shook once. In the semi-final, he was led by a waza-ari by Uzbek Alisher Yusupov, number 8 and world bronze medalist in 2023. For a few seconds, the Frenchman was even declared the loser on an ippon from his opponent, before the judges reversed their decision.

Stung, the double Olympic champion reacted. And then left no more opportunity for the Central Asian judoka. He first equalized with a superb move, before finally defeating him before the end of the four minutes of the fight thanks to a saving ippon.

Riner's first three outings had been a virtual formality. From the outset, Galymzhan Krikbay had the effect of prey trying to flee its predator, refusing the fight and throwing himself to the ground several times. The Kazakh logically chained the penalties until the third, final.

In his second fight, Teddy Riner scored the first ippon of the day. In less than a minute, he knocked his Korean opponent, Jaegu Youn, to his back. Ideal for presenting yourself fresh and dashing against the German Losseni Kone, 22 years old and one of the interesting heavyweights of the new generation.

Once under the threat of a third penalty synonymous with defeat, Teddy Riner quickly put his young rival – still much too tender – in his place. First by countering him magnificently to score a first waza-ari, then by following up on the ground with a half-hearted attack from Kone to immobilize him until the referee announced a second waza-ari, synonymous with victory by ippon for the Frenchman.

Six gold medals for French judo

In Paris, Teddy Riner added one more title to his record but he also scored very useful points in the race for the Olympic ranking, where he was until then only 21st. By scoring 1,000 points, he should quickly climb into the top eight who will be protected in the Olympic draw. To see if the management of his body bruised by years of training, courses in the four corners of the world (Brazil, Morocco or Kazakhstan recently) and competitions, will allow him to fight enough to maintain his position from here at the Games.

Seed or not, the priority remains the preservation of the health of the champion, who we almost want to wrap in bubble wrap until August 2, the date of his entry into the Olympic tournament. Since his bronze medal in Tokyo in 2021, the French Goliath has only been successful four times in major international competitions: at the Grand Slam in Hungary in 2022, at those in Paris in 2023 and 2024, and at the World Championships in Doha last May where he won an eleventh title.

While he had declined selection for the European Championships in Montpellier in November, he gave up the Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) a few days before, to preserve himself. He finally made his comeback in December during the Judo Champions League under the colors of his club PSG. In Belgrade, if the Parisians failed to win the competition, Riner won in his three fights.

With a very ambitious goal of ten medals at the Olympics set by its federation, the French team finished at the top of the medal table during this Grand Slam: six gold medals, one silver and five bronze.

A few minutes before Riner, Romane Dicko also won with disconcerting ease in the 78 kg final while Léa Fontaine, Maxime-Gaël Ngayap Hambou and Madeleine Malonga took third place respectively in 78 kg, -90 kg and - 78 kg, a podium which should lead to Olympic selections for the last two.