France’s Teddy Riner, 33, made his first appearance since the Tokyo Games at the recently-concluded 2022 Zagreb Grand Prix, where he easily won the gold medal. There, he looked sharper than he had been in recent years, although it must also be said that he didn’t face any of his top rivals.
So, who are his top rivals? We look at his Top 3 opponents first. Later, we will look at the Top 3 dark horses who could pose a real challenge to Riner.
Guram Tushishvili (GEO)
Tushishvili, 27, is an accomplished player. He is an Olympic silver medalist, World Champion and double European Champion.
Tushishvili has fought Riner twice in the past (2017) and lost both times. That was five years ago when Riner could be said to still be in his prime. Riner is now 33 and making a comeback. Tushishvili, at 27, is still going strong and is in fact, currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
The main thing he’s got going for him in terms of his prospects against Riner is his ability to do drop techniques.
Tushishvili’s main problem might not be Riner but other top fighters in the category. He famously lost to Lukas Krpalek (CZE) in the Tokyo Games in 2021. It’s worth mentioning that he has lost to Tamerlan Bashaev (IJF), the man who beat Riner in Tokyo, a total of four times so far. Also, he recently lost to Jur Spijkers (NED) at this year’s European Championships.
Tamerlan Bashaev (IJF)
Bashaev’s in an Olympic Bronze Medalist, World Silver Medalist and European Champion, but his main claim to fame is defeating Riner at the Tokyo Games. Other than Japan’s Kokoro Kageura, he is the only player to have beaten Riner since 2010.
Like Tushishvili, Bashaev is a dropper, and it was through the use of a drop technique that he was able to beat Riner in Tokyo.
As a Russian, when he competes, Bashaev has to do so under the banner of the IJF. He is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, although he has not competed in the IJF circuit since the Olympic Games.
Lukas Krpalek (CZE)
On paper, Lukas Krpalek should be considered Riner’s top rival. He is certainly the most accomplished: double Olympic Champion, double World Champion and triple European Champion. But like Riner, he is an older player and will be 33 by the time Paris 2024 comes along.
Krpalek’s first return to competition since his victory in Tokyo was the recent 2022 Zagreb Grand Prix. There, he fared poorly, losing to Gela Zaalishvili (GEO) and Martti Puumalainen (FIN), and did not get a medal. Time will tell whether he can regain his form.
His strong athleticism and the fact that he is a left-hander works are thought to be his strong points in terms of his prospects against Riner.
Krpalek has fought Riner twice, both times in 2019. He lost both times. His last two matches against Bashaev were in 2021 and 2020, and he lost both of those too. He famously defeated Tushishvili in Tokyo but it will be interesting to see these two players fight again in the near future.