The Road to Rio columns continues and this time we have a special guest. Sporting hero, Teddy Riner will be one of the judoka on the way to the next Olympic Games! Can he double up his Olympic Golds?
By Szandra Szögedi Teddy Riner…the name which everyone knows, not only in the judo world but in the world of sports and beyond. Is he that famous? Yes he is! However, there is much more behind this big man than just great judo skills. When and where has it all started? Our sporting hero was born in 1989 in Pointe-à-Pitre, on the island of Guadeloupe, during a family holiday. He was raised in Paris, France and started judo at the age of 5. Besides judo, he practiced many other sports for years, athletics, golf, basketball, football, squash, mountain climbing and swimming are just few to mention. His brother took him on the judo mat first. So out of all the sports, why Judo? “I like fighting, judo is my life..it is…hmmm. I don’t have the words to describe my emotions for judo.” – he answered. As most of the players who started judo, or any other sports, at such a young age, it is always begins as a hobby. There was no difference for Teddy. “Yes, of course I started judo as a hobby and when I get to the age that I was allowed to be entered for tournaments it became more serious. I won, I won and then I won again… then judo became my choice of life. I stopped every other sports I was doing at the time and from that moment I know I wanted to be an Olympic Champion in judo.” Today, Teddy Riner is considered a hero for millions. Did he have someone to look up to when he was ‘little’? “I was very lucky, because my first club I was at I had many great champions to look up to. Such a names as David Douillet, Frédéric Demontfaucon and many others…but when I was young, for me the best judoka was Nomura.. Tadahiro Nomura and also Kosei Inoue. I really like Japanese style of judo.” he described. He mentioned the name Kosei Inoue… the person he looked up to is the same person he defeated in the final of the world championships in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, where he also became the youngest ever senior world champion judoka. However, this is history, but the fact that by today, he became a role model himself is in the present. Yet, Teddy does not think that big: “I don’t think of myself as a hero or a legend” – he said. “Of course, I am happy that I can be an example for many but for now I am only focused on my career…judo, judo, judo…and when I retire and became an old man than I can say I am a legend, but only when I became a history myself.” So far it seems that the six times World Champion has no life besides judo…Oh, it is not the case at all! When Teddy is not training, you would possibly find him in the cinema, or behind books since he loves reading; or he might be just watching football or basketball game as his way of relaxation. What else? Might be surprised, but Teddy is not only master of the sport judo but also pretty good at poker. “I play poker every time, I really like poker!” Riner’s favourite football team is Paris Saint Germain, as it is his club of judo too. He has a good relationship with the football team. “Yes, I have many friends from the Paris Saint Germain football club but one of my very good friend is Mamadou Sakho, who now plays for Liverpool… Sometimes I go to the restaurant with the team and talk about football and just chill out with them.” – explained Teddy as we talked about his time off the mat. Being as famous as Teddy Riner is in France, it is not easy to relax…anywhere he goes people recognise him. Yet, rest is a crucial part of any athlete’s life. So how does he manage? Riner: “I don’t manage. I know this is my life now because I became famous in France and I learned to live with it. If and when I don’t want any pictures or autographs I stay at home and sleep; but I never say no when I am outside because I know how much it means to others. There was a time when I was young and it was the same for me having to see and to know all those heroes.” The French judoka has it all: European Gold, World Championships Gold and Olympic Gold…and still very young! What else is there to motivate him? “To be honest, right now I just really want to be able to get back to my training and competition regime because five months ago I had a surgery and now judo is difficult… My biggest dream and motivation now is to be able to get back to my best level, because if I don’t have my best level, than I don’t have medals and if I don’t have medals I don’t have a smile…” – expressed his feelings the London 2012 Olympic Champion. That special day, 2012 Summer Olympics Teddy Riner completed his medal collections with an Olympic Gold medal. How did he feel after accomplishing the biggest dream of his life? “When I won the Olympics? Uhhh…(silence)…Wow, wow, wow…(silence)..this is a special emotion because it was a dream in whole my life and then it was there, and I managed to do it at a young age. When I think of how much work I have had put into that one medal…just for that one single medal, but very special one… (silence) it is difficult. It comes with loads of work..you wake up and going to bed with it. You work hard and then it is there, you won it, you have it. It is an incredible feeling, very emotional.” – Riner says. Putting the hard work in there is one thing, but being able to handle the mental pressure is another…Riner was under loads of pressure since everyone was expecting the gold from him in London and as we know and have seen it many times, the beauty of the sport judo is that you never know what is going to happen. How did he deal with the pressure? “Yes, I had a lot of pressure but in my head I said to myself: Teddy, let’s go! This is your dream….In my head it was like if it was my last competition.” 2016… On the way to Rio! He has been there and done it. Can a second Olympic Gold make a difference to the first one? “If you win an Olympic it is good, you show everyone that you can win; but second time you show everyone that you are THE champion. This is a job, a difficult one, but a possible one. It is sport, everything is possible.” – describes the French superstar. What is until Rio? “For now, I really want to find my judo again and have my head on the right track. I am still searching my judo and it can be frustrating at sometimes. I only had physiotherapy for last five months and it is very difficult. At the moment it is all about finding my judo and the rest will follow.” – explained the current world number two. What else could Riner wish for? The three wishes of a judo hero: “1- win my second Olympic Gold medal, 2- have a good life after my judo career, 3- have beautiful babies.” Teddy is still recovering of his earlier injury and hoping to be in action at the Samsun Grand Prix in Turkey. However, if that does not work out, he guarantees to see him on the mat to defend his title at the European Championships in Montpellier, France. Also visit Riner’s hero profile: http://www.eju.net/?portalId=83&id=2
Author: Sören Starke