Judo is a sport that holds the ideal that size doesn’t matter. That anyone, regardless of their stature can use technique, leverage, and skill to best a far larger, stronger opponent. But what happens when you have all those skills, AND you happen to be a 6’8, 300 pound monster-sized man inspiring terror based on your stature alone?
France’s Teddy Riner, favorite in the 100+ kilogram class in Olympic Judo is a spectacular outlier. A beautiful man capable of terrible things, and that makes him a must-watch at the Tokyo games.
As a child Riner showed a natural proficiency for sports. Growing up in the small island nation of Guadalope, Riner’s parents had him play soccer, basketball, and a variety of other team sports trying to find what he had a natural knack for. Excelling at everything, it wasn’t until Riner discovered Judo that everything clicked. Riner loved competing in an individual sport. In 2012, ahead of the London Olympics, he told the BBC that he wanted to rely on himself, and only himself to achieve victory.
“Football is with a team,” he tells BBC Sport. “If the team is bad, I lose. And me, I don’t like to lose. I prefer judo because it is an individual sport and it’s me, only me.”
That pressure he put on himself paid off. In 2007 Riner became the youngest senior champion of all time at age 17. He even beat 2000 Olympic gold medalist Kosei Inoue en route to the finals. It was from that moment his path to greatness was set in motion, and from that point forward it was unstoppable.
In the 14 years since that first gold, Riner has won nine more world championships. He’s taken home Olympic gold twice. The man nicknamed “Teddy Bear” has faced every single challenge in world Judo, and excelled almost every time.
Now he’s returning to the Olympic games, this time in Tokyo — and still at the relatively young age of 32 in the sport, still has plenty of time ahead of him. God help the rest of the world in his class while he’s competing.
How to watch Teddy Riner in Tokyo
- Men’s 100+ kilogram, Round of 32, 16, quarter, and semi finals: Thursday, July 29 at 9:00 p.m. ET
- Men’s 100+ kilogram, Finals: Friday, July 30 at 4:50 a.m. ET