“It’s on the mat that I feel good. I have so many things to manage outside… On the mat, I am not within anyone’s reach. Teddy Riner may measure 2.04 m, stabilize at 142 kg on sharpening days and his entourage filter 95% of the half-dozen daily media requests, he is nonetheless human. Reading: subject to the ticking of the clock, both physically and mentally. “The hardest thing in sport is waiting,” recalled the former American tennis player Andy Roddick in the documentary series Break Point on Netflix. “The Olympic Games are not one day every four years, but every day for four years”, once told us his compatriot Kayla Harrison, titled like Teddy in 2012 in London then in 2016 in Rio, and since moved to MMA.
These aphorisms, the French golden-boy internalized them a long time ago. This tunnel of high performance that lasts is one of the trends of the great beasts of world sport of this 21st century: Lionel Messi in football, LeBron James in basketball, the Williams sisters or the famous Big 3 in tennis… “Age is in the head” said British sprinter Linford Christie thirty years ago. Maintaining the flame, at this stage, is a matter of precision mechanics. This is where the art of knowing how to surround yourself and the reminder of an almost counter-intuitive truth comes in: judo is only an individual discipline internally. In its social reality, it is primarily a collective enterprise.
“All my career, I have only aimed for sporting excellence, slice Riner over the phone one evening in January. And if it goes through a separate operation, then we put it in place, without qualms. Alain Perriot, the teacher when he started, remembers having understood very early on that, with this profile, a classic frame would be too narrow. “Being a young teacher then, I could not multiply myself. My priority was the development of my club. This is why, on Saturday, I very quickly entrusted little Ted to Serge Dyot, because he needed to chain tournaments. In the France team, rebelote. In September 2010, on his return from the Tokyo Worlds, the 21-year-old prodigy felt he had been unfairly deprived of a fifth (!) world crown. With Christian Chaumont, his coach at the time at Levallois SC, he made a decisive turn. Inspired by the Japanese icon Ryoko Tamura-Tani, nine Olympic and world titles between 1993 and 2007, he enlists the services of Nico Kanning, who becomes his dedicated sparring, one of the few in training to go several times per session with the Demolition Man from Guadeloupe. The +100 kg trained at SC Berlin will eat well for ten years: one day as a left-hander, the next day as a cross guard, it is up to Teddy and his staff to find solutions which, on D-Day, will never leave the slightest parcel again. of ambiguity to the referees. “OK he’s good, but I’ve never seen anyone train so hard, completes Kanning. A month before the Rio Games, on an international training camp in Spain, while the rest of the team was taking a nap before the afternoon session, we set off to chain sprints uphill. He needed this session.
Rio 2016, therefore. Second Olympic title, eighth summer in a row to ring out the Marseillaise on a planetary rendezvous. 27 years old, father, XXL public figure: tired of being scrutinized, selfies, Instagrammed, Teddy would like to forget Riner a little. He gives himself a break, a real one. On his return, a year later at the Budapest Worlds, the colossus wins again, on his aura this time. Its margin has shrunk. In October in Marrakesh, he goes over the gas and wins his 10th world title – his last to date. Then he cuts again. A long time.
The Last Dance
It was at this time that its current functioning was gradually structured. The age gap – and results – with the rest of the France group is the beginning of an explanation. His status as the head of the PSG Judo project is another. The conviction also, as is often the case with 30-something athletes, that each additional year is one less opportunity. He knows who he wants by his side and says so: “My medals make me legitimate when I express concrete needs.” Meriem Salmi, her shrink since she was 14, is obviously one. Laurence Dacoury, sifting through her public relations for four Olympiads, too. Armelle O’Brien, physiotherapist for the French team from 2009 to 2016, agrees to juggle her practice in Saint-Raphaël and her life as a young mother, alternating with two Parisian colleagues. Lighter and in line with its intention to “work on mobility and speed of movement”, Frédéric Miredin succeeds Nico Kanning in sparring, Brieuc Gobé and Julien Corvo replace Yann Morisseau in physical preparation… New Caledonian Laurent Calleja has the responsibility of managing the whole and Franck Chambily, this former -60 kg who has followed him since the cadets, the much envied status of “Teddy Riner’s coach”.
Initially informal, this «cells» (said Calleja) it’s not Teddy “both conductor and instrument” (dixit O’Brien) officially sees the light of day in early 2022. It has a specific budget earmarked until 2024 by the French Judo Federation and the National Sports Agency. A budget that the two structures, requested by Freedprefer not to communicate in view of the “period of social crisis” that the country is going through. Decoded: this cell has a substantial cost. It is that in addition to being a precursor in an amateur sport like judo, the device thinks big: “You have the great champions and those above, outlines Chambily. At this stage of his career, Teddy needs security, new challenges and fun. Safety is the choice to surround yourself with skills and confidence, and that everyone does what is necessary to best prevent their great fear: injury. The challenges and the pleasure, it is to ensure that 80% of its twice-daily preparation is now done abroad, with partners in number and quality, who are happy to get into it. Morocco, Brazil, Japan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, in addition to the major groups on the international circuit… “This time I take the time to immerse myself in local cultures, savor the interested party. They are happy that I come and I am happy to go. No question of fraternizing on the other hand. “The competition is the competition. Friendship, we will try later.
“A high-level career is first and foremost a sum of decisions”, confirms Baptiste Leroy, who arrived in the fall of 2022 at the head of the French men’s team. Teddy’s ex-teammate at Levallois SC has to deal with this paradox: his best element traces his route away from the group. It’s not easy, but the technician has worked his way up enough – a long past as a competitor and years in a club or at the head of Moroccan and then Mauritian selections – not to seize the opportunity to think about succession and “to provide methodology to put an end to empiricism in the training of French heavyweights”. Fifteen years of world judo’s yoke have indeed left their mark internally. Emulation of course, but also annoyances, misunderstandings, suppressed frustration. Its radical approach of favoring training abroad reminds those who remain of their own shortcomings, but also of certain federal choices sometimes experienced as incoherent: selection criteria with variable geometry, glass ceiling, impression of being only a patch, a plan B or C. And when the most consistent of them, Joseph Terhec, ventures in the fall of 2020 to dominate his elder in competition in Brest, beware of the pride of the injured champion. A television report showed their reunion in training after the crime of lèse-majesté. They were…manly.
Now relieved of the weight of his famous 154 fights of invincibility, Riner practices the upward decline. He who tumbled in 2007 shouting “I’m coming !intends to show sixteen years later that he remains “there and well there, different but the same”. In Japan, the motherland of the discipline, the one who talks about it best remains Kosei Inoue. This legendary champion was pushed into retirement in 2008 by the eruption of the Frenchman, before raising the Japanese men’s selection to five titles for seven at the Tokyo Olympics. “Teddy Riner is like a famous mountain for our young champions to climb. Its strength is its maturity and its risk management qualities. He is very intelligent, studies his opponents and knows how to outsmart them rather than relying solely on his strengths. We say the same to our champions: you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to beat the opponent.” he deciphered to journalist Florent Dabadie.
Before facing the Frenchman at home in 2024, the Japanese strategist focuses on his country’s desire for revenge during the mixed team event, the ultimate affront: for the first of this formula at the Olympics, France had defeated his host in the final in Tokyo. Response from Teddy Riner: “Perhaps they will beat us in Paris but, between us, isn’t the most important thing to remain forever the first to have won this event?” Response in just over 550 days.