Teddy Riner exclusive: "My goal is not an 11th world title, but to be Olympic champion for a third time"

Teddy Riner told Olympic Channel why he'll miss the world championships, and talked judo, Ronaldinho, and three-in-a-row at Tokyo 2020.

By Ken Browne and Alessandro Poggi

Teddy Riner: The greatest judoka of all time?

Teddy Riner could do what no-one has ever done at Tokyo 2020: Win three Olympic heavyweight judo gold medals in a row.

But he is not even be satisfied by that.

The Frenchman wants to compete in a fifth Olympic Games, at home at Paris 2024.

Could he make it four-in-a-row in front of an adoring crowd and bow out as G.O.A.T.?

But first things first.

Riner decided to skip the World Championships in Tokyo. Why?

"My goal is not an 11th world title, but to be Olympic champion for a third time."

At thirty years of age right now, he knows that to manage that near-impossible feat he'll have to choose his battles and protect his body.

The reigning Olympic champ won the Montreal Grand Prix on July 8 2019, his first tournament, and his first title since November 2017 in Marrakech, Morocco, where he claimed his 12th global title at the World Openweight Championships.

The final was his 148th straight victory but as he said himself: "it was no walk in the park".

Riner's legacy as one of the judo greats is already secured: two Olympic gold medals, five European championships, and the only judoka ever to have won ten world championship gold medals.

The French master hasn't been beaten since 2010 - 148 bouts - and Olympic Channel sat down with him to find out how he plans to continue rewriting the record books.

Interview with Teddy Riner

Olympic Channel: With everything that you have won and achieved in judo already, what's next for Teddy Riner?

Teddy Riner: "I want to set myself this next great challenge, to win a third Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Japan, where everything started for my sport but also for me.

"I remember when I was younger, I used to come here to face the best judokas and today, I am amongst the best and I know that I am a marked man and that other judokas want to take my place."

"That’s flattering but I want to win this third Olympic gold medal so it’s better to keep a low profile this year. If I manage to win gold in Tokyo 2020, I will have no problem to come back to the world championships and face whoever I have to."

Still king

Montreal proved that Riner is still on top of his game, but rivals will have taken heart by how close they came to dethroning him.

The Frenchman needed Golden Score time to beat Hisayoshi Harasawa in Canada, in what was a rematch of the 2016 Olympic final, and Rio -100kg champion Lukas Krpalek also took him to extra time during the tournament.

Olympic Channel: What are the risks of taking time out and not regularly facing the world's best judokas?

Teddy Riner: "The real risk is picking the wrong event. My goal is not to win an 11th world championship title but to be Olympic champion for the third time.

"Here is all the difference: The Olympics are held every four years, not yearly like world champs.

"Of course it would have been great to win again in Tokyo [The Japanese capital hosts the 2019 World Judo championships from August 25 to Sep 1], but I already had a taste of it in 2010."

In 2010 Riner won his third world champs crown in Tokyo, and prefers to wait for Tokyo 2020 to try and become a triple Olympic champion rather than add an eleventh world title to the collection.

Olympic Channel: You came back to competition after 18 months out. How easy was it to return to the mat?

Teddy Riner: "There has never been an easy competition. This comeback was even harder because most of the judokas I faced, I never faced them before.

"But it was good for me, it woke me up. The battle for the gold medal in Tokyo is already here. Now it’s time to go to work, I always worked and I will do what I have to to get what I want."

Olympic Channel: Since Rio 2016, how do you see the level of your rivals?

Teddy Riner: "The level has not changed, there have always been a lot of rivals. I have to be the best. It’s my responsibility to raise my game to finish on the highest step of the podium. I have to do the job.

"I have to show who I am on the tatami. Rivals will always be here."

Olympic Channel: Georgian Guram Tushishvili is the current world champion and maybe the only one who you struggled with in Marrakech. He just won the European Games. Do you think it would be better to face him before Tokyo 2020 or not?

Teddy Riner: "No, why should I fight him?"

"I already faced him twice, in Budapest at the world champs and in Marrakech at the World Openweight championships. I know this judoka, i know what he does.

"He is a good judoka, but he is not the only one. Other judokas are as good as him. It’s better not to underestimate anybody."

Olympic Channel: You are not qualified yet for Tokyo 2020, you are world no.26. What is your strategy to qualify and get there in the conditions possible next year ?

Teddy Riner: "I want to do the Grand Slam events, earn as many points as possible and be placed as well as possible."

Olympic Channel: After the 10 world championships, the Olympic gold medals, what keeps you motivated?

Teddy Riner: "The only motivation I have today is to win another Olympic gold medal. This is what makes me want to continue."

The legend of Yasuhiro Yamashita

Japanese judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita won the Olympic gold medal in 1984 and still holds the record of 203 consecutive wins, 55 more than 'Big Ted'.

Yamashita is remembered as a hero by Japan's judo faithful for many reasons, and his Olympic win while injured is high on the list:

Riner could take that record from Yamashita, but is that one of the things that drives him?

Olympic Channel: Is overtaking the Yamashita consecutive win record important to you?

Teddy Riner: "I would prefer to hold all the records I have than to take that one from Yamashita.

"I have of lot respect for Yamashita, but I am not motivated by the unbeaten record. What people remember is how many titles you have, who you are in your sport."

Olympic Channel: [Rio -66kg champion] Fabio Basile told us that he is friends with his rivals, but once he goes on the tatami he feels like a lion. How do you feel when go step in the tatami ?

Teddy Riner: When I enter on the tatami, it’s to fight, to win.

Olympic Channel: If he is a lion, to which animal would you identify yourself to ?

Teddy Riner: I don’t specifically see an animal, I see myself. Myself against others.

Olympic Channel: You said that Japan is a special place for you? We saw that you like Japanese «anime». What anime inspired you?

Teddy Riner: Dragon Ball Z. It’s my favourite cartoon and one that inspired me the most, how to be cool off the tatami and at full power on it to win the bout.

Olympic Channel: How much will the result in Tokyo 2020 have an influence on your decision to continue until Paris 2024?

Teddy Riner: "If I win, I will take time to breathe and enjoy after having lived a great moment. But knowing myself, I will still have the desire to taste more success so it is highly likely that I will go until Paris 2024 and then stop.

"But It will be the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 that will decide. So far I am only focused on Tokyo 2020. To be ready on d-day and give everything I have to win that medal."

Olympic Channel: Is there an athlete, from Judo or another sport that inspired you ?

Teddy Riner: "What I like in sports, what inspires me in the high level sport is success of the champions. I love to see that spark that they have when they win. The determination they have to win a title, a medal. This is what I like to see. This is what inspires me."

"My favourite athlete is Ronaldinho."

Olympic Channel: Why?

Teddy Riner: "He is the best. He is always smiling and enjoys himself. This is important to me. I want to do things while enjoying myself too, with a smile."

Olympic Channel: Last question, people call you the king of judo, how does that feel?

Teddy Riner: "To be considered the king of judo it’s strange and flattering. But there are a lot of rivals. Every year is different. I have a lot of respect for my peers, my rivals.

"I have been inspired by a lot of other judokas and bouts I have had with them. Without those peers, the coaches and all the people around me, I would not be here."


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