Teddy Riner: 'NOMURA Tadahiro and I talk a lot about the record'

Doha, QATAR - 13 January 2021: French judoka Teddy Riner during the IJF Doha Masters 2021.
Doha, QATAR - 13 January 2021: French judoka Teddy Riner during the IJF Doha Masters 2021.

On 9 July, the double Olympic champion spoke to Tokyo 2020 about his expectations and his pursuit of a third consecutive gold medal.

On 30 July , Teddy Riner could win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal at the Nippon Budokan. If he achieves this feat, the Frenchman would tie NOMURA Tadahiro 's record and cement his place in judo history. After clinching bronze at Beijing 2008 and gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016, the 10-time world champion is preparing for his fourth Olympic Games.

The heavyweight fighter will attempt to win his fourth Olympic medal in a row in Tokyo, the home of judo. And 32-year-old is displaying the same desire and motivation as always despite suffering his first defeat in nine years in February 2020.

T2020: Teddy, firstly, how are you?

Teddy Riner: It's going great, there is a nice atmosphere in the group, and personally, I feel good. I feel ready. I believe that everything is set for a good competition, a successful Olympic Games, and to chase that famous medal.

The big day is getting closer. What is your state of mind (the interview was conducted on 9 July)?

I'm a bit tired because we just finished the last big training camp, but there are still a few days to go. In one week, I will see how good I feel. But even with this fatigue, I want to be there, to fight, to win everything.

What did the postponement change in your preparation?

The postponement gave me the time to understand a few things, reset some stuff, take stock of everything that was wrong and everything that was right. I was able to get myself up to date and get everything back on track.

Is everything going well now?

Yes, everything looks good. I have everything I need to perform at the Olympics, but sport is a funny thing. You can be the best for a long time, but half a second is enough to make you lose everything in a competition. It will be up to me. I will have to be great and win every fight, take them one by one, not rush it, and do what I do best.

What has been the main focus of your training over the last few months?

We have worked on all aspects: physical, technical, dietary, psychological and a lot of judo. A lot.

The last time you fought in a tournament was in January during the Masters in Doha. You have won your five fights in five different ways. That was quite a statement. Was it a return to your best level?

No, I wouldn't say that. It was a return to my best, but it was not a statement. There were opportunities, and I took them. Every time one came up, I took advantage of it. That's how I see judo. That's how I plan to do it at the Olympics: create opportunity and take advantage of it. I'm going to have to fight without rushing and do what I've been doing for years.

What record can Teddy Riner set at Tokyo 2020?
02:27

The 10-time judo World champion is chasing a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, a feat only achieved by Japan's Nomura Tadahiro between 1996 and 2004. Find out why Riner has extra incentive to add to his haul, and create more history for France at the Games in 2021.

You have not competed since January. Why?

I have put in a lot of physical work, which didn't allow me to be ready for other tournaments. But now, I'm used to that. I know what I have to do In Tokyo.

How much do you weigh today?

138kg.

Sub-140kg is when you're in your best shape, right?

I'm not talking about an ideal weight or the best version of myself. I have also been able to win when I was heavier. It's a balance I found for myself, and I feel good like this, judo responds well. It's a good weight.

When you're in love with your sport, when you want to achieve great things, you don't care about age.

What does it mean for a judoka to be fighting in Tokyo for the Olympics?

It is special. It is where our sport started, there is a history, and it's incredible for every judoka. Any judoka or athlete who does a sport with a history in the country hosting the Olympic Games wants to succeed, create his own history, and leave a legacy. The first time I won a world championship title in Tokyo, I was thrilled. In Japan, in front of such a crowd, a knowledgeable public, it's great. Winning in Tokyo during this challenging period will have a double impact. It is a moment of pride as a judoka and athlete because I think many of us appreciate Tokyo. Personally, I love this city. This is where I spent a lot of time during training camps.

You are a massive star in France, and you are friends with Thierry Henry, Tony Parker, to name a few. What is the best advice you have ever received from anyone in your life?

People usually ask for advice from me. I haven't received much advice but I have learned from former Olympians and non-Olympians that it is important to stay focused and within your own bubble. When we get to Olympic Village, we are amazed. In each Olympics, it's a new Village, with new stuff, new distractions and ideas. It's not that easy for a new Olympian.

What are the most important values of judo for you and why?

Not only judo, but sport in general, how to take charge of your life, how to grow and become a man.

You have shown great longevity. You are the only judoka in the +100kg category that have participated every year since Beijing 2008.

I even wonder if there is anyone else in Tokyo 2020 (among the judokas) who participated in Beijing 2008. I'm not the grandpa of the team, though. You know, when you love your sport and want to achieve great things, you don't care about age. You just do what you love. That's how I see sport. Since Rio 2016, I have set new challenges. I have talked a lot about it, winning a third Olympic gold medal means a lot to me. We are a few days away from seeing it, now I have to give it my best and finish strong to do what is necessary on 30 July.

Winning a third Olympic gold medal, you would tie NOMURA Tadahiro's record. How often do you think about it?

Definitely. But I have to be careful. The record is not the priority. I want to win the gold medal. If I got it, then I will take the time to see him and tell him that I know how much it means. But first, I need to do it for myself and go as far as I can to be able to do that.

Have you spoken to him about the record?

Yes, a lot! He can't stop making fun of me.

Would you return the favour if you win?

I don't want to put the cart before the horse but if I win it, he will hear from me (laughs). There is no other choice. We know how difficult it is to do something like that. Making the Olympics once is already so hard...If I win it, then I'm going to enjoy it!

Do you see your experience as a big asset when you step on the mat?

Yes, of course. Experience is helping a lot during important moments. What I have learnt from the previous Olympics is going to help me but experience alone is not enough, I will have to fight hard.

At the Olympics, everybody is hungry, strong and prepared

Has the way you view the Olympics changed with time?

You always experience the same joy. If you have experienced the Olympic Games once, you want to experience it again. No matter what sport you're doing, there is nothing better than the Olympics.

Who will be your main opposition in Tokyo?

There is no one in particular. Everybody is strong, ready and hungry for the Olympic Games. There is no easy way, every fight is going to be difficult.

You are no longer unbeaten and you are not seeded in Tokyo 2020. Does that change anything for you?

No, it's the same. Even when I was undefeated for some years, I wasn't ranked number one anymore so I wasn't seeded but I kept winning. We're talking about a loss in a tournament, not a championship. The unbeaten streak is still alive in championships since 2010. But anyway, it doesn't matter. Every time you start a championship, it's a new beginning.

Judo stars reveal: What makes Teddy Riner so special
01:49

The release of the documentary 'Teddy, le film' in France highlights the success of two-time Olympic judo champion Teddy Riner. Daria Bilodid, Clarisse Agbegnenou and Fabio Basile explain what sets Teddy Riner apart.