Come on, be honest. What pops into your head when I say “infant”? You are thinking about a fragile being, excessively mothered, who cries and whines without apparent reason. And, well…while we’re at it, even though he may be super cute, let’s admit that he can be rather irritating.
Now that we’re on the same page, I invite you to watch this video.
Do you see what I am getting at?
This video shows Teddy Riner’s reaction after his defeat in the open category at the 2010 World Judo Championships in Tokyo. Three days before, thanks to his victory in the men’s +100kg event against Toelze, he equaled the record of four World titles held jointly by the illustrious Douillet, Fujii, Ogawa and Yamashita. With this fight, Teddy had the opportunity to surpass them and make judo history with great fanfare at only 21 years old. However, he couldn’t prevail over his opponent and the referees declared him the loser.
For non-French speakers, the video shows Teddy Riner whining about how he has been robbed by the referees and why the victory was, in fact, his. Following that, some representatives of the French judo federation tell the same story indicating they approved of his pathetic display.
Is this how a great champion should behave?
Some will defend the man, saying that he was actually quite young and what he had accomplished at his age was impressive. They aren’t wrong about that. It’s useless to write about his short but astonishing career all over again; others have already done so in great detail. Just so you know precisely how dazzling his progress has been, note that he entered the INSEP (French elite senior training centers) when he was 15, whereas other promising young judo athletes of the same age were joining the Pôles France (under 18 years old), and that at 22 he had already won six World titles, an unmatched record.
In the last World Championships in Paris, Teddy Riner proved that he had changed. Beyond the extraordinary sport performance, I was impressed by his frame of mind. First, he swore that never again would he let a referee decide the outcome of a fight: he had clearly decided to take his destiny into his own hands. He trained seriously and made good on his word, outdoing all his rivals (six ippons…). When David Douillet presented the sparkling gold medal to him on the podium, Teddy said that he wasn’t thinking about the Olympic Games yet, and that he would go step by step. Now this is a great champion speaking.
But does he realise that he could be even more?
Out of reach
In light of his young age, at some point Teddy Riner will most likely surpass, or even shatter, David Douillet’s record, the most titled judoka with two Olympic titles and four World titles. Going down in history, if he has the guts, Teddy could go beyond the great champion phase and become… a legend. Yes, I said it!
In my opinion, an athlete who has reached legendary status has done much more than just collect a lot of medals and other prizes. First, it takes an incredible presence ─ an electrifying charisma, like Andre Agassi. He leaves no one indifferent: people either love him or hate him. A la Maradonna, he stands out and is not shackled; he arouses passionate reactions. Like Muhammad Ali, at times a stroke of genius can get him out of a desperate situation, and then lead him to win a fight that seemed lost; or sometimes he dominates a championship from end to end.
A legend has stellar performances. He leaves a lasting mark, like Carl Lewis. He is famous beyond the boundaries of sports. Like Michael Jordan, he will be seen by generations to come as a distant and insurmountable mountain. Moreover, people won’t make comparisons. Passionate fans will say: “It’s not possible, he was so strong and above everyone else, and that was another time.” His image will be protected and his weaknesses carefully forgotten.
Will Teddy Riner, bouncing baby of 6 ft 8 in and over 306 lb, choose to enter the Olympus of sports legends?