London 2012: Is Teddy Riner a judo legend at just 22?

By Jessica CreightonOlympic sports reporter

The sport of judo has never seen anything like Teddy Riner.

The Frenchman is the first judoka to have won five world titles, has lost just two fights in the past four years and enjoys superstar status in his home country.

Standing at a burly 6ft 8in and 128kg, it is not difficult to see why he is such a formidable opponent. Extraordinary physical prowess matched with unprecedented achievements have made Riner judo's tour de force at only 22.

Born on the small Caribbean island of Guadeloupe during a family holiday, Riner was raised in Paris and, from as young as five, seemed a likely athlete.

He was enrolled in the local sports club by his parents and excelled at tennis, football, basketball and swimming, but it was judo that caught Riner's eye.

"Football is with a team," he tells BBC Sport. "If the team is bad, I lose. And me, I don't like to lose. I prefer judo because it is an individual sport and it's me, only me."

Judo is a sport in which agility is key, where throwing or flipping your opponent on their back - known as ippon - scores maximum points and could win a fight in seconds.

"I like the hand grips and the search for the beautiful ippon," Riner adds.

Technique is also vital - fighters are continuously working on new ways to grip their opponents to deliver a match-winning ippon, something which lies behind Riner's unrivalled success.

"It's my good technique. I have a specialist hold developed by my coach and I," Riner explains. "I'm preparing a new [grip] for London 2012 and doing lots of training."

Riner's first step on a judo mat was a far cry from the crowd-pleasing performances he is famed for today. Facing his much smaller but older brother, Riner was swept aside in under 20 seconds.

"By beating him, I'd have the opportunity to show my parents which of us was the strongest," Riner recalls. "However, I was too cocky. I was full of innocent enthusiasm and he just swept me over."

Since then, the Parisian has made a vow to "never underestimate an opponent, even the most modest".

And it has worked. Five world titles, two European Championships and a 2008 Olympic bronze medal have given Riner celebrity status in his judo-loving home country.

But it is also his animated, cheery demeanour that makes him a favourite with French judo fans.

In a sport where players are expected to show self-control and mute emotions whether winning or losing, Riner, after securing his fifth world crown in front of an adoring Parisian public, hoisted his coach Benoit Campargue in the air to the delight of his home crowd.

The following morning his face adorned the front page of leading French sports daily L'Equipe with the word: 'Monumental'external-link

An Olympic title is all that is missing from Riner's impressive CV. He had to settle for a bronze medal on his debut in Beijing and is adamant he will better that result this summer. But if he doesn't?

"This would be a nightmare. [Winning gold] is my dream."

Olympic gold will have been a long time coming considering Riner has been winning international tournaments since he was 17, when he became European junior champion.

Just a year later, in 2007, he was crowned the youngest ever world champion when he won the senior heavyweight division.

Away from judo, Riner is still the enthusiastic sportsman he was in his younger days with a love of quad-biking, jet-skiing - and also music.

"I like R&B, hip-hop, soul. I like all music - Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Akon. Akon and me speak," Riner says of the popular Senegalese hiphop artist he met in a club in France three years ago.

Winning Olympic gold would undoubtedly cement Riner's place in the judo hall of fame and he vows to continue in the sport he loves if he is successful in London. But Riner does not rule out a move into the music industry once his judo days are over.

A duet with Akon perhaps? "Yes, probably," he laughs.