Judo's superstar Teddy Riner is fighting to find his form.
The London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist has now targeted a return to competition in May, according to his coach Franck Chambilly.
The 29-year-old hasn't competed since November 2017.
"At the moment I would say he’s at 50% [of his potential]" Chambilly, who coaches Riner since 2002, said in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.
"6 weeks of training is not enough after having been out [of training] for over a year. Even if you’re Teddy Riner it’s not enough", the 48-year-old former judoka added.
The 10-time World champion, who's aiming to tie Tadahiro Nomura's record of three consecutive judo Olympic titles, will continue working on his fitness and conditioning so he can be at the top in a couple of months.
Riner will go to Japan in April for a training camp and after that he might consider entering the Grand Slam of Azerbaijan in Baku (May 10-12) or the Grand Prix of China in Hohhot (May 24-26).
Olympic Channel: Why did Teddy decide to postpone his return?
Franck Chambilly: Teddy officially started his training on January 7, despite practising some light judo between September and December 2018. After those six weeks we assessed whether or not he would be ready for Marrakech. He could have done it, but the idea was really to get those feelings back and to do some good judo. We didn’t want to go to a Grand Prix and win with penalties, we weren’t interested in that.
He has no pressure, he’s got time, so we decided to skip the GP of Marrakech.
How would you rate his current form and how many weeks of training does he need to reach the top?
I’d say half. He’s at 50% [of his potential]. It’s true that 6 weeks of training is not enough after having been out [of training] for over a year. Even if you’re Teddy Riner it’s not enough. Now he’s back in a training camp. We’re heading back to Japan in April and after that we will assess his condition and see if he has found the efficiency in his judo again. Then we’ll see, because in May there are the Grand Slam of Azerbaijan and the Grand Prix of China. But again, the focus will be on his form and his capacity to make his opponents fall and feel content [with his performance]. When everything falls into place, we’ll take a decision about signing up for a tournament.
How confident are you for a return in May?
I think once we are back from Japan he’ll have three months of training in total and it should be fine.
Why does a top athlete like Teddy need a year off to perform at his best?
After 17 years at top level, to take a year off was necessary for his psychological and physical health. He needed this break.
What challenges has he faced?
We've been focusing on his base training, because he was heavier and he needed to lose weight. He also needed to get used to the hard combat, to get his feelings back, to make his opponents fall. When you return to fight on a mat, it’s about finding the sensation you were used to. Then training is one thing, competition is another. He needs to get used to a proper match, but at the moment it’s very important he feels ready in his head.
The top 18 athletes of the World rankings by May 2020 will qualify for Tokyo: are you worried Teddy might not get the necessary points?
I’m not worried, of course there’s a bit of apprehension, but when he’s going to find his best level, he just needs to win 2-3 tournaments. I’m just worried if he gets injured and with 17 months before the Games we need to be careful.
On 7 April he'll turn 30, for how long is he going to continue?
The most important event for him are the Games in Tokyo. After that, he’ll be 31 and then he will assess the situation, it will be depend on his body and his mind.
If he’s motivated he can continue until Paris, but it will be his decision.
Teddy Riner: My Rio Highlights
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How can you motivate someone who never lost since 2010 with a 144-0 record?
Every week, day by day, I try to find new things, to find new pleasures, new challenges. To change horizons and find new places to train. When you have won everything it’s hard to find motivation.
Teddy’s rivals are dangerous, especially the new generations, but the most important thing is him, how’s his mind, how’s his motivation.
We are racking our brains to find new training techniques, new places, new training partners…We are trying to change his routine.
The 2018 World champion Guram Tushishvili was the only one who has really challenged Teddy, why?
He has no barriers, he believes he can beat Teddy. He’s a warrior, like all the Georgians. He’s confident and when you’re confident there are no limits. Whether it's Teddy Riner or a robot, for them the objective is always clear. This is good for Teddy and for the world of judo that he can have rivals with this spirit. Tushishvili is proof that in judo everything can happen.
Who are going to be Riner's biggest rivals in Tokyo?
The new generation of heavy-weights for the next Olympics includes the Russian Inal Tasoev and the Czech Lukas Krpalek, Olympic champion in the 100kg category at Rio 2016, who’s very very good. Then there’s the Iranian Javad Mahjoub, the Israeli Or Sasson who’s always competitive, another Russian, Tamerlan Bashaev, the Uzbek Bekmurod Oltiboev and of course Hisayoshi Harasawa, who just won in Dusseldorf and was second in Paris. All these rivals can aim for a medal in Tokyo: Tushishvili, Krpalek, Harasawa and Tasoev will be the most dangerous.
How would you explain Teddy’s dominance?
I can explain it in a very simple way. There are not many big champions and he’s one of them: he’s got a winning mentality, he’s ambitious, he hates losing, he questions himself every day, he doesn’t wait for his coach to make all the decisions. But it’s his head that makes the difference, his ambition.
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