Judo star Teddy Riner trains in Tokyo with eye on Olympic gold

Anne BEADE
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Teddy Riner has visited more than 30 times, but with the country due to host the summer Olympics, training here now has special resonance

French judo star Teddy Riner may have won 10 world championships, but he's not resting on his laurels, already training in Tokyo, where he hopes to win a third straight Olympic gold in 2020.

For now, his training programme is "no stress," but the champion judoka has made no secret of his desire to score another top medal when Japan hosts the Games in two years.

"I'm still young, I'm 29. Trying to get this third gold medal is a challenge I've set myself, but there's no pressure," he told AFP with a smile, after several training bouts at a dojo in the Tokyo suburb of Tama.

Born in Guadeloupe, Riner is no stranger to Japan, judo's spiritual home.

He has visited more than 30 times, but with the country due to host the summer Olympics, training here now has special resonance.

It also offers a "variety of (sparring) partners" compared to France, according to the colossal athlete, who stands over two metres tall and weighs in at more than 140 kilogrammes (310 pounds).

Training with him on Wednesday was Hisayoshi Harasawa, his opponent in the gold-medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"He wasn't 100 percent, I wasn't 100 percent, but that didn't stop us from having a little battle... testing each other out," Riner said after they sparred.

- Focusing on 2020 training -

On a two-week trip to Japan, Riner admits he is taking care to avoid putting on weight, after gaining some extra pounds during a training pause after Rio.

He expects to soon be "plunging into major (training) preparation, because Tokyo 2020 is coming up fast."

Part of that programme will involve cutting back on the number of events to which he subjects what he calls his "worn body."

He won't compete in any world championships before the Olympics, but will participate at events this year in Cancun in October and Tashkent in November.

He expects to take part in 2019's Paris Grand Slam, but wants to make sure he doesn't end up spread too thin.

"I've been on the circuit since I was 14, you have to know when to slow down so you can last longer," he said.

"He has had plenty of physical problems," adds Riner's longtime coach Franck Chambilly.

"It's like Formula 1, you have to take care so he'll have all his physical capabilities."

- Paris 2024? -

Unbeaten since 2010 and with 144 fights under his belt, Riner has nothing to prove.

"The career I've had is exceptional. I've been world champion 10 times, Olympic champion twice and won a bronze (Olympic) medal. For me, (Tokyo 2020) is a bonus," he said.

Still, winning a third Olympic gold would see Riner equal the record set by Japanese judoka Tadahiro Nomura, who competes in the lightweight category.

"I'd even exceed him, since I'll have four Olympic medals," including the bronze, Riner said.

In the homeland of judo, Riner might not find the home crowd on his side, but he expect watchers to be "connoisseurs, who love beautiful battles."

"If I succeed, great, I'll be the happiest man in the world once again, but if not, life goes on," said the champion, who has a four-year-old son.

And might there yet be a chance for him to compete for Olympic gold on home turf, at the 2024 Olympics in Paris?

"It would be the cherry on the cake, but we must not put the cart before the horse," he says cautiously.

And looking further ahead, to a life far from the tatami mats of the world's dojos, Riner has a wealth of options, as well as some role models.

He doesn't rule out politics, following in the footsteps of former French judo champion David Douillet, who became the country's sports minister after his retirement, but could also see a future in business.

"I've got plenty of ideas, plenty of resources, I see myself as an entrepreneur."