PARIS, Aug 30: Teddy Riner may be a record five-time world judo champion but he still needs to add an Olympic crown before he can become a legend, according to Japanese great Yasuhiro Yamashita.
Riner completed a remarkable weekend on Sunday when we won the decisive fight to give France World Teams Championship gold just a day after he secured his record fifth individual title by winning the men’s over-100kg category.
Yamashita, who was unbeaten in international competition, says Riner is head and shoulders above the competition but cannot become a legend until he becomes Olympic champion.
Yamashita himself won four world titles and gold at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
Asked if Riner was well respected in Japan, the home and birthplace of judo, Yamashita said he would have to become Olympic champion first, but he said that is only a matter of time.
“He’s brilliant. Technically, physically and mentally he’s the best,” Yamashita said. “He behaves like a true champion. Teddy Riner will be Olympic champion in London, I'm sure of that.”
Here in Paris, Riner blitzed through the competition to win his fifth title, throwing five out of six opponents for the maximum ippon score and strangling the other one.
Yamashita, who remained unbeaten in 203 fights, believes Riner’s superiority is even more marked than his own was.
“I’ve never seen an athlete demonstrate such a noticeable difference between himself and the others,” he said.
“He’s better than he was before. The only way his opponents can beat him is if he’s injured or ill. He has so much confidence in himself that as long as he’s in form and doesn’t lose his motivation, no-one can beat him.”
That in itself is a remarkable statement for a Japanese former coach as well as athlete to make.
The Japanese have been by far the most successful nation in judo and almost always finish top of the medals table at major international competitions, even when they consider themselves to have failed.
There is an innate sense of superiority, born out in no small part from past evidence, and the heavyweight division is the blue-ribband event that the Japanese covet the most.
In the Japanese psyche it is not enough just to win, one has to win in grandiose style, as Yamashita explained from his own career.
“I had my idea of what judo should be and my motivation was always to achieve that,” he said.
“That allowed me to never get demotivated. The objective was not the result but rather the quest for that ideal which was to always win by ippon.”
In the Japanese mindset, even if a fighter is winning by a half-point waza-ari score with 10 seconds remaining, he should still be looking to win by ippon.
And yet Yamashita, who still works closely with judo development amongst the youth in Japan, admits that his countrymen are scratching their heads when it comes to Riner.
With him it is not a case of winning with style but of finding someone to challenge this giant of the sport, who stands at over two metres.
“I'm sure that many fighters will improve for the Olympics but there is such a gap between Riner and the rest that it won't suffice,” he said.
“Teddy Riner is a wall. Before these worlds the Japanese didn't realise that.
“They still thought they could beat him but now they know it's impossible. After London he will be a superstar.”—AFP