Teddy Riner returns at Montreal Grand Prix: ''I missed the adrenaline''
Teddy Riner is back - and this time it's for real.
The judo megastar is finally ready for his first competition since November 2017 and competes on the final day of the Montreal Grand Prix on Sunday.
The reigning double Olympic champion makes his return against Ajax Tadehara of the United States in Pool B of the +100kg class he has dominated for the last decade.
If he makes it through to the latter stages, you can watch him live on Olympic Channel from 5pm local time (2100 CET).
There may be geo-restrictions in place, so click on the link to check whether it is available in your region.
The French judoka - who's now 30 - is already in Montreal, and itching to get back into combat: "I missed the adrenaline," he posted online.
“After about a year and a half out of the competition, I was getting bored!" he said, "but it was a choice to manage my career in a way I could continue and reach my goal of a third gold medal in Tokyo."
"I think time has come now. I need to know where I’m at." - Teddy Riner
"It’s my comeback and I’m really happy to do it in Canada during the Montreal Grand Prix. It will be my first time visiting Canada, I’m happy it’s happening there,” said the two-time Olympic champion.
This was the reception he got in the francophone Canadian city:
"A gift from heaven"
CEO of Judo Canada Nicolas Gill is even more excited:
"It’s a gift from heaven to have an athlete like him attending" - Nicolas Gill, CEO of Judo Canada
“He is by far the greatest judoka in history. He’s a 10-time world champion. He’s a celebrity well outside his sport," Gill enthused.
"For our first Grand Prix in Montreal, it’s a gift from heaven to have an athlete like him attending,” said Nicolas Gill, CEO and High Performance Director of Judo Canada.
Set for his first fight in 18 months, Riner prepared at INSEP, the French elite training centre in the Bois de Vincennes, Paris, before setting off for Canada.
"For 6 months I've been training every day to get back to competition. 💪🏾 Some work has been done, and there's a lot more to come on the road to Tokyo 2020." - Teddy Riner
The 10-time world champion posted a video, where he looks lean and in his best shape since he went back to training, saying:
"Hello everyone, this is my last training before taking the plane to Canada. The objective for me is to restart, recover my confidence and get my first points for Olympic qualification. I'm counting on your support and I'll see you at the Maurice-Richard Arena. See you soon."
Teddy Riner: "I have ants in my pants"
A few days before he also sent a message to fans and followers online, confirming that Montreal was going to be the stage for his much-anticipated comeback:
"Many of you send me messages to ask when I'll be back in competition. Well I have the answer!"
"With my coaches, we made the decision to participate in the Montreal Grand Prix, Canada. I am super happy, I was getting impatient, I have ants in my pants, tingles in my hands ... 18 months is a long time!"
This is a big step on the road to Tokyo 2020 - Teddy Riner
"I missed competition, the feeling, the adrenaline, the challenge. This is a big step on the road to #Tokyo2020, as we have to get the Olympic quota to qualify.
I want to thank you again for all your messages and your encouragement that give me strength on a daily basis, we don't give up!"
Greatest Of All Time?
By winning gold at Tokyo 2020, the 6th dan would become the most decorated judoka in Olympic history.
Japan's Tadahiro Nomura is the only Olympian to win three judo gold medals, but France's 2.03m +100kg titan would surpass him because of the bronze medal he won at Beijing 2008 when he was just 18.
In Montreal, Riner will seek to continue his incredible winning streak of 144 bouts which stretches all the way back to 2010.
But gold at Tokyo 2020 might not even be the end of Riner's Olympic journey.
He previously said he wants to bow out at home at Paris 2024:
Riner: I will do my very best to compete until 2024
Riner: I will do my very best to compete until 2024Two-time Olympic champion judoka setting his sights beyond Tokyo and hopes to compete in a home Olympics in Paris.
There have been a few false dawns and cancelled comebacks on the way to Riner's reboot in Montreal.
He missed the Baku 2018 worlds in September, was all set to return at the Marrakesh Grand Prix in March 2019, withdrew from Turkey's Antalya Grand Prix in April, then the Hohhot Grand Prix, China, in May.
That return has finally come in July 2019, opening the way to the heavyweight hero's presence at the Tokyo 2019 world champs in August.
But that may depend on how things go in Montreal.
In May Riner's coach Franck Chambilly told Olympic Channel he was not ready for Marrakesh after just six weeks back in training, and the team and the man himself wanted to make a return at the right time when he was in the right shape and the right frame of mind.
Staying calm is second nature to the Guadaloupe-born superstar:
"I remain calm. I still want to qualify for the Tokyo Games as quickly as I can, but I am not worried, there are plenty of fixtures on the international calendar." - Teddy Riner in April 2019
In May the judoka went on a 15-day training camp in Japan with five young Paris Saint-Germain team-mates, two members of the French judo team and his sparring partner Nicolas Kanning.
Riner has had to work hard hard to shed excess weight and recover his fitness after a year out.
Despite a year away from judo, Riner hasn't just been taking it easy.
His high-profile life has included a meeting with Congolese president Denis Sassou Nguesso in April in the capital Brazzaville with the pair discussing a possible international judo event in the African nation.
"Congo is the country of my coach Darcel Yandzi, who has strongly inspired me during my career - the Frenchman told AllAfrica.com - Our project is about an event in Brazzaville with the best judokas in the world."
"Why aren't these major events organised in Africa? Myself, for example, I'm world and Olympic champion in my category and I have African roots."
The most famous face in judo was also in the stands to watch the PSG football team host Manchester United in the Champions League.
And he is already a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, visiting Syrian children in a refugee camp in Turkey in June, just last month.
Has Teddy Riner qualified for Tokyo 2020?
The top 18 athletes in the World rankings by May 2020 will qualify for Tokyo, so Riner - who's now no. 35 in the +100kg rankings - has time.
In May coach Chambilly told Olympic Channel: "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."
But there is one potential danger that might keep Riner out of Tokyo and end his three-golds-in-a-row dream:
"I’m just worried if he gets injured ... so we need to be careful."
Who can beat Teddy Riner?
So who are the rivals that coach thinks might have the beating of Big Ted?
"Teddy’s rivals are dangerous, especially the new generations, but the most important thing is him, how’s his mind, how’s his motivation," says Chambilly.
"The new generation of heavy-weights for the next Olympics includes the Russian Inal Tasoev and the Czech Lukas Krpalek," he continued, "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 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."
Will Guram Tushishvili end Riner's reign?
Out of all of those names, Guram Tushishvili stands out.
Riner's own coach says: "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."
Current world champion, the Georgian has competed in two events in 2019 so far, and he's won both.
The most recent came just last week - June 24 - on Day 4 at the European Games when he took on the talented Russian Inal Tasoev in the final and won emphatically by ippon with a lightning-fast spin and throw.
Tushishvili stepped up from the 100kg category which means he isn't a lumbering heavyweight, he's quick and light on his feet, and has history with Riner.
At the 2017 Budapest World Championships, Georgia's big unit came close to throwing Riner in the semi-final, and did catch him with a foot-sweep only for the French champ to move his body just enough to avoid conceding a score.
Unfortunately, this mouth-watering Riner-Tushishvili match-up won't happen at the Montreal Grand Prix because Tushishvili won't be there, but Hisayoshi Harasawa will.
That means we could see a repeat of the Rio 2016 final.
Watch it live on Olympic Channel.