Five things you didn’t know about judo Olympic champion Lukas Krpalek

He is the Czech Republic’s most successful judoka ever, but did you know that Teddy Riner's new main rival loves gardening? Find out more about the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist below…
By Andrew Binner

Nicknamed ‘intelligent beast’ by his coach, there is a lot more than meets the eye with reigning -100kg judo Olympic judo champion Lukas Krpalek.

The Czech judoka’s tough and uncompromising approach has seen him win Olympic gold at Rio 2016 (where he was also his nation’s flag bearer), in addition to two world titles and three European Championships.

But away from the mat, the 1.98m (6-foot-6), 115kg man mountain displays his rather more gentle side, and a rich plethora of skills and interests… including gardening!

The 29-year-old will have to overcome two-time Olympic champion Teddy Riner to win gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games, having moved into the Frenchman's weight category after Rio.

Riner was absent during Krpalek's 2019 world championships victory. Afterwards, the world champion said, "Winning a competition without him it's not the same... I want to be the man who's going to beat him."

The Czech lost to Riner in their first competitive meeting last year at the Montreal Grand Prix after a nerve-shredding semi-final.

"Lukas is an amazing judoka, this was the most difficult contest for me," Riner said as he praised his rival.

That defeat though didn't affect Krpalek's ambitions.

“I’ve managed to win everything but I have one more goal in front of me and that’s to win the Olympic heavyweight title.”

That said, let’s dig a little deeper into the Czech tree fanatic's fascinating background below...

Talented at other sports

Second son of an entrepreneur and a textile factory employee, Krpalek’s childhood was spent outdoors playing a multitude of sports.

His first love was ice hockey as he played on the Czech Republic’s frozen lakes. Among his favourite sports, there's also cycling, skiing, football, golf and later basketball, volleyball and swimming.

“Sports are my life” he told Lespritdujudo.

When judo training was forbidden due to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the judoka demonstrated that he has not lost his versatility by playing beach volleyball with his teammates to stay fit.

Taking up judo was a mistake! 

The next sport the self-confessed hyperactive child wanted to try was karate.

However, his uncle enrolled him into judo class by mistake, and it was weeks before the young Krpalek realised what had happened, thinking he was practising judo! 

Far from a natural, the future Olympic champion was described by his first coach Josef Simacek as being very tall and slim with poor agility and technique. 

A perfect lesson in what can be achieved with perseverance.

His brother Michal is also a judoka 

Krpalek’s older brother Michal also began his judo career by the same happy mistake in that he thought it was karate.

The elder sibling also saw success as a professional, winning bronze at the European Under-23 Championship in 2010.

He served as his brother’s sparring partner at the London 2012 Olympics, where Lukas finished in seventh position.

Michal quit the sport in 2014 after having both shoulders operated on.

Gardener and carpenter!

Under normal circumstances, Krpalek would have completed his Olympic Games in Japan. However, after the coronavirus-enforced postponement until 2021, and the subsequent lockdown, he took up gardening.

His speciality is planting vegetables, while he was even given the honour of planting a tree in the Prague Botanical Garden. It was a symbolic Japanese tree, of course.

“I'm also happy for choosing that Japanese tree, because Japan is actually my second home. I often go back there and overall I really like it,” he told

The Czech athlete used to work as a carpenter, and has also rediscovered his tools during the quarantine.

“I started with things that I put off and needed to fix. Only then did I start working on what I had been making for years before. I had been planning the swing, which I also put on social networks, for a long time, but only now was the time. I threw myself at it and it is one hundred percent finished. I helped my brother make a shelter."

Motorcyle collector

Krpalek is an avid motorcycle fan and collector, and rides them when he’s not in the gym or on the golf course.

He was even given a specially-designed life size wooden motorcycle by a local ornament club prior to his victorious Rio 2016 Olympic campaign in order to bring him luck.

It certainly did its job, as he took the gold medal weeks later!