In the past decade, there can be few sports people who have been as dominant as French judoka Teddy Riner.
Lewis Hamilton? Possibly. Usain Bolt was virtually untouchable up until the 2017 World Championships in London. Serena Williams went through spells of cleaning up Grand Slam titles.
But until last year, Riner was unbeaten in almost 10 years. Until February 2020, he had won every match he entered since September 2010. That meant that along the way, he picked up two Olympic golds in the 100kg division, eight World Championships, five European titles and multiple World Masters, Grand Slam and Grand Prix victories. He was, quite simply, on another level.
French judo star Riner suffers shock early defeat, settles for bronze
Outside of France, judo and Olympic circles, Riner is not known to many - his achievements suggest he deserves the biggest platform as arguably his sport's greatest of all time. He is such a star in France that one of football’s biggest clubs, Paris Saint-Germain, set up a judo division and signed him up straight away as their marquee player.
That defeat to Japan's Kokoro Kageura at the Paris Grand Prix, just before the world went into coronavirus lockdown, has lifted a sheen off a glittering career. Rivals can see that he can be beaten in Tokyo. But will he?
Bad luck for them, because Riner was back on top form at the Doha World Judo Masters in January, finishing with yet another gold. He had gone back to the drawing board, after admitting he had hit a low with that rare loss and now looks even bigger and more imposing that he was before.
“I work very hard on my technique and nutrition, my last competition was very bad for me,” he said after the victory.
“It was a big nightmare. After, it was very difficult - I’ve come back with this weight and without the feeling, the sensation.
“I know my objective is the Olympics, my head is focused on Tokyo. The training, the nutrition, it’s very hard.”
Riner has a laser-like focus on a third Olympic gold (and a fourth all in all - he won bronze at Beijing 2008), so much so that he has even taken time out of the sport to miss the World Championships in 2019, just so he would not punish his body.
During an interview with the Olympic Channel two years ago, he said: "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."
Paris would be the ideal place for Riner to retire - in front of packed home fans. There, he may be truly appreciated as an Olympic legend.
Riner will seek out Nomura if he wins his third Olympic gold medal
Olympic Momentum: Riner's charge to becoming champion in London and Rio
Share this article