The judo events start this Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics, with the lightweight.
Luka Mkheidze will open the ball for the French men's team in -60kg.
Georgian by birth, he fled his country with his family as a teenager to settle in the Paris region, then in Normandy.
Throughout his fascinating career, the young man has never stopped practicing judo, his passion since childhood.
From our special correspondent in Tokyo,
From our special correspondent in Tokyo,
Luka Mkheidze is a good cook. He could even have made it his profession, after a year spent working in a restaurant, but judo prevailed over everything else and it is of course on the tatami that he finally devotes himself to the best way of heat up his opponents. More grilled than stewed, for that matter. “He does not have a conventional judo where we will seek penalties. He will try to bring down his opponent, a treat for purists, ”recently described for the 76actu site Thomas Destin, the president of Perrey Guerrier's club in Le Havre.
This is where it all started for this small judoka (1.60 m), who will discover the Olympics this Saturday in the -60 kg category. Finally, where it all started in France.
Because Luka Mkheidze's journey is quite unique.
It was actually in Georgia, where he was born in 1996, that he discovered judo, pushed by his father.
The latter dreamed of doing it when he was a kid, but his mother had never allowed him.
So he proceeded to initiate the son.
"He never forced me either," says Mkheidze today.
It's me, I liked it right away.
Judo or nothing
However, he will have to take his pain patiently. When he pushes the doors of the local club at 5 years old, he is kindly turned away by the coaches because of his small size. In Georgia, judo, like wrestling, is a king sport. We don't have too much time with the initiation of the kids, we train almost like the grown-ups from the start. Little Luka has to wait two years, during which time he takes up swimming and basketball. But already, nothing beats the smell of the tatami mat for him.
Barely his seven candles blown out, he hastens to put the kimono back on. A habit that he will keep at each stage of his eventful childhood. The youngest Georgian champion, he had to flee his country with his family in 2008, at the age of 12, after the Second South Ossetian War. First stop in Poland, where he remains eight months but still has time to find a place to practice his passion. Arrived in the Paris region in 2010 with the status of political refugee, he took up residence at the Bolivar club, in the 19th arrondissement of the capital.
The family, who sleep in a hotel room, do not stay there for long.
Direction Le Havre, where he quickly found a new club.
Gifted, Luka does not take long to make a name for himself in the region, which will quickly become too small for him.
After a stint at the Pôle espoirs de Rouen, he obtained French nationality in 2015, during his last junior year.
“I was asking myself lots of questions.
I wondered if I could go and see the level above, because without nationality it was impossible, ”he recalls.
A seat at the Olympics snatched in April
Once his passport is in hand, he decides to go back to Paris to take a new course. “I was starting to go around in circles and I needed to change partners, to have more opposition,” he explains. He signed in Sucy (94), then joined Insep a year later. “I managed to make my hole, little by little. I started doing national tournaments, then international tournaments. It was not easy because I had the feeling that I was starting from further than the others. Cadet-junior are important years for the experience, and I was stuck. But I managed to make up for lost time. "
Barely four years later, here he is at the Olympic Games, after taking advantage of the postponement to steal the place in his category from Walide Khyar, who still held the rope in 2020. His silver medal obtained at the European Championships in Last April, after beating his compatriot in the quarter-finals, was decisive.
Luka Mkheidze took off for Tokyo carrying the memory of Zurab Zviadauri, the man who anchored judo deep inside him by winning the middleweight gold medal in 2004 in Athens.
Still a connection with Georgia
“I was 8 years old, I saw how happy all the inhabitants were,” he recounts, his face suddenly very serious. He made them proud. It made me want to know the same thing. And if fate has made him try his luck in the colors of another country, the will remains the same. “I arrived very young, it was not easy to adapt to a very different culture, to learn the language, which is really complicated (laughs), but I think I have integrated well and I feel very well here, assures the judoka of 25 years. I am very happy to fight for France. "
And then if he made the day of his life this Saturday, sure that it would have an impact as far as Tbilisi, where the Mkheidze still have family.
The link is not broken.
“Sometimes I meet Georgians competing.
Some of them I got to know when I was young, in my club, it's great to find them.
We talk, they encourage me, tell me that they believe in me and that I will get there, even if today I am fighting for France.
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