Riner strikes gold in Olympic heavyweight judo

France's Teddy Riner won the men's Olympic heavyweight judo title to deafening roars from a huge French contingent in the crowd on Friday, cementing his status as the best judoka in the world.


A hero in his homeland, the 10,000-strong crowd at London's ExCel Centre, awash with red, white and blue tricolour flags of France, chanted his name in the sort of reception usually reserved for pop stars.

"He's worked for four years and today he's won gold," Lorine Dopierala, 12, her face painted with the colours of the tricolour. "All the French people were together behind Teddy Riner," she told Reuters.

"We're proud today. He's the best judo player in the world. Incredible," said her father.

There's no doubting Riner's popularity or his ability. At 23, he already has won five world championships and has been beaten just once since he missed out on the title in Beijing.

His route to gold on Friday looked almost inevitable, brushing off opponents who seemed more interested in not being unceremoniously thrown to the mat than trying to beat the world champion.

The support he received was also unsurpassed during seven days of judo in London. A mere glimpse of the 6ft 8ins (2.04) giant was enough to send the adoring French supporters into delirious whoops and screams of "Teddy Teddy" that got more deafening as the day wore on.

"It didn't feel like I was in London but in Paris," said Riner, whose nickname is "Teddy Bear".

Many of the favourites for judo gold medals have faltered during a week of competition, but Riner said he was determined to stay focused.

"The final was difficult, but from the beginning I felt it would go my way. It's mine, it's my day, it's my medal," he told reporters. "I think I will sleep with this medal because for four years it has been long and hard."

Not only currently the best judoka in the world, he is now en route to becoming one of the greatest ever.

"Riner stands on the cusp of breaking all judo records, and it seems like there is nothing that can stop him," said the International Judo Federation, the sports governing body.

The shaven-headed Riner, who conveys a laid back persona despite his obvious brute strength, told reporters he now planned a break of three to four months, or perhaps as long as six.

"I want to relax in the sun in Guadalupe and to do all the things that were forbidden for me, just like jet-ski," he said.

Meanwhile all his rivals are left to ponder and plot just how they can stop him at the Games in Brazil in four years time.

"Nobody is unbeatable," said Brazilian bronze medallist Rafael Silva. "I can work on my weaknesses, hopefully fight him and beat him in Rio."

Britain's Chris Sherrington, meanwhile, admitted he could have done better after his men's heavyweight campaign was ended Mikhaylin.

Sherrington took just seconds to win his opening fight against Australia’s Jake Andrewartha, reducing him to tears with a brilliantly executed ippon, judo’s equivalent of a knockout blow.

But it was always going to be tougher against Russia’s Mikhaylin, a two-time world champion – although the last of those titles was seven years ago – who enjoyed a near perfect build-up to these Games.

He won bronze at last year’s World Championships, took the European title earlier this year and had only lost twice in 19 fights so far in 2012.

Sherrington – a serving Royal Marine – took the battle to the Russian and the contest stayed tight, with only a low-scoring move ending the British heavyweight’s hopes of a place in the quarter-finals.

“Nearly is not good enough, as a Royal Marine it needs to be a win for me to be totally happy,” he said.

“I’ve been trying to beat that guy for six years and I have worked and worked on him. But he manipulates you in ways you would not believe, you can’t see it, you have to feel it.

“I managed to keep him at bay right until the end and I’m gutted but at the end of the day I got taken out by a two-time world champion.

“That’s the closet I’ve ever got to him. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’m fast and strong and powerful but he still won.

“It was a low score, it wasn’t an ippon and maybe next time he will get what’s coming.”

He might have been the heaviest man at the Olympic Games, but the imposing figure of Ricardo Blas failed to make a big impression in the men's heavyweight judo competition.

Blas, 25, from Guam, weighing in at 218 kg or almost 35 stone, raised cheers at London's ExCel Centre when he knocked out Facinet Keita from Guinea in the first round.

However, despite the challenge for his opponents of getting to grips with his huge frame, he did not last long in his next fight against Cuba's Oscar Brayson - who would go out at the quarter-final stage to Riner - on Friday.

"I have heard about that," he said on being asked about being the heaviest athlete in London.

"I have never had a problem with my body weight. My stamina is good."

Known as "The Little Mountain" on Guam, a small Pacific island in Micronesia, Blas also competed in Beijing in 2008 and said he hoped to be back again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"I have not yet made my final decision to continue or not," he said.

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