The roller coaster for the French judo team. Judokas and tricolor judokats went through all the emotions to bring back eight medals to the French delegation at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Two gold, three silver and three bronze medals. A record that makes judo the leading provider of French medals this year. A collective joy which nevertheless hides some individual regrets.
Riner, Bronze Colossus
Headliner of French judo for a decade, Teddy Riner was aiming for a third individual Olympic title in Tokyo, to equal on his land the legend Tadahiro Nomura. But the tricolor giant, injured before the competition, saw his course stopped in the quarters by the Russian Tamerlan Bashaev. “The Olympic Games are a competition apart, analysis Larbi Benboudaoud, the boss of the French teams. Everyone comes with a knife between their teeth, there is no room for mistakes. “ The French quickly digested to go for a bronze medal, then an Olympic team title.
“His remobilization was very important, to be the spearhead of the team with Clarisse [Agbégnénou], underlines Larbi Benboudaoud. It was really important for the team, for everyone.“At 32, Teddy Riner left Tokyo with two more medals to his credit. “He’s a great champion, he’s going to be a little disappointed with his bronze medal, but looking back it’s still extraordinary, continues Benboudaoud. And he may not have said his last word.“
Les Bleues at the forefront
In the balance sheet of the France team, the judokates weighed with all their weight. Five of the seven individual medals were won by women. “The women were already there throughout the Olympiad [cycle de quatre ans précédant les Jeux], they did the job, explains Larbi Benboudaoud. We arrived at the Olympics with four no.1s global. The girls, just confirmed their status. They have assumed it.”
As patron, the flag bearer Clarisse Agbégnénou crushed the competition in the under 63 kilos. Before dominating the champion of -70 kilos in the team final. In tears after her defeat in the final in Rio, in 2016, the five-time world champion erased this bad memory. She brings back from Tokyo the only individual title of the France team, a regret for Larbi Benboudaoud: “There are two or three medals that could have turned into gold, it’s a little frustration despite a very good campaign.” Amandine Buchard (-52 kg) and Madeleine Malonga failed in the final against the Japanese. Sarah-Léonie Cysique (silver medalist in -57 kg at 23) and Romane Dicko (bronze medalist in +78 kg at 21) have made an appointment with Paris 2024.
On the men’s side, the record is less glowing. Out of six qualified, only three reached the quarter-finals. For two bronze medals. “For the boys, it was hard the whole edition“explains Larbi Benboudaoud. If that of Teddy Riner may have disappointed after two titles, that of Luka Mkheidze is “extraordinaire” for the boss of the Blues. “A message was sent to those who stayed at home, he explains. He is the youngest of the team and the bookmakers would never have bet on him. And he got the job done. Under the same conditions as them, with the same structures. So if they work, they can do it.”
The team title in apotheosis
An unprecedented conclusion to the Olympic tournament, the team competition was the highlight for the Blues. The best way to erase the disappointment of the three lost finals. “We could do something historic because it was the first time that there was a team title at the Games, explains Larbi Benboudaoud. Everyone was waiting for this France-Japan, the clash of the titans. And at home, with the campaign they did, necessarily, they already saw themselves at the top of the box. It was counting without our team who wanted to ring the Marseillaise in the land of the Rising Sun. And they succeeded. “
The event rewarded a collective united around the same objective. “The group dynamics and cohesion were extraordinary throughout the day, they did something historic, relishes Benboudaoud. And it is a shared joy. Seeing Teddy jump to the ceiling when he is ten times world champions, double Olympic champion, it was like for his first medal, it’s extraordinary. It is an incredible communicative joy. “
An engine for 2024
Now, all eyes are on Paris 2024, in three years. To reach the goal of 80 medals for the French delegation, judo will have to go even higher. “We will go back to work and exploit these medals, explains the former Sydney Games silver medalist. For the medalist athlete but also for the others, who stayed in France and saw. “This collective is important. Say it is achievable. When you train everyday with the best in the world, you say to yourself ‘Why not me ?’“. The state of mind, the mind, is Larbi Benboudaoud’s main target. “The first factor of performance is the state of mind. How you approach your competitions and your training. For the rest, we have know-how.”
As host country, France is sure to be able to present an athlete in each category. The boss of the French teams wants to take the opportunity to create emulation and competition in order to push everyone to their maximum. “We must transmit this desire to win, he explains. The high level is an elitist system, with many contenders and few elected. But the chosen one is not forever. If you move, you can take his place. We have to make sure to bring an athlete to his top level, but also the guy behind him. And we’ll take the best. This is the state of mind we want to put in place.“Appointment is made.