Five years of preparation for a gigantic challenge: Teddy Riner can clinch a third consecutive title of Olympic champion, in the cradle of his sport, while athletics takes off in turn, Friday at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
From his first belts received on the carpets of the Aquaboulevard to his ippons worked on those of a club close to the Buttes-Chaumont park, Riner, child of Paris and Guadeloupe, took the roads that lead him today 'hui at Nippon Budokan, the temple of judo.
And there is no better place to be legendary.
Because it is a feat that the 32-year-old Frenchman attacks.
In history, only one other judoka, the Japanese Tadahiro Nomura, managed to become a triple Olympic champion.
It was in the under 60 kg category, in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
An unprecedented feat in judo, for both men and women, and still unique.
"It would be painful to see a Japanese lose, but I would also be happy to see Riner win the title," Nomura, 46, said in an interview with AFP in late June.
For Riner, the task promises to be complex, as the giant advances in uncertainty, due to an injury contracted five months ago to the cruciate ligament of the left knee, an injury only recently revealed.
- "At the end of myself" -
"Of course, from time to time, (my knee) hurts, but that does not prevent me from training, from going after myself," Riner told AFP about his knee.
Fragile is not really the adjective that comes to mind when describing Teddy Riner, his two Olympic titles, his 10 world crowns, his 2.03 m and his approximately 140 kg, of muscles when he is in a competition configuration.
But only the fight he will deliver this Friday morning for his entry into the running will give any indications.
It will be against the Austrian Stephan Hegyi, shortly after 11:00 local time (04:00 in France).
If it passes, he will then have four fights left to complete his feat.
For women, we must not forget to follow the course of Romane Dicko, engaged in the + 78 kg.
At 21, the two-time European champion added a prestigious Masters victory to her early record last January.
Friday, the other big news is marked by the beginnings of athletics, at the Olympic stadium.
- Bolt's Orphan -
Olympic sport N.1, orphaned by Usain Bolt and his charisma, will also be strongly impacted by the health restrictions linked to Covid-19.
And the empty images of the stands of the Olympic stadium - even if the colors of the seats of the enclosure can act as a trompe l'oeil - will not help to raise enthusiasm automatically.
Thursday, the elimination even before the start of the competition of the American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, positive for Covid, revived fears related to a possible contamination of other athletes in the Olympic village.
The only final on the program of this first day - the first of the 48 scheduled until August 8 - the 10,000 m men (8:30 p.m. local, 1:30 p.m. in France), should make it possible to forget these hazards.
Boss of the world background since 2019, the Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei is the world champion and world record holder (26 min 11 sec 00), and the big name of the first big athletics final of these Olympics.
Will he manage to sign in Japan an Olympic double 5000 m / 10,000 m, like the last great figures of long distances, Kenenisa Bekele (2008) and Mo Farah (2012, 2016) as he aims?
© 2021 AFP