Why French judoka Romane Dicko is more than just the female Teddy Riner

Author : unstealthy2011
Publish Date : 2021-04-07 13:42:55


Why French judoka Romane Dicko is more than just the female Teddy Riner

Both are heavyweight judokas. Both represent France. Both were crowned champions of Europe before their 19th birthday.

But Dicko wants to be more than just 'the female Teddy Riner.'



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'I'm not a star,' Dicko tells CNN, admitting she's 'flattered' to be compared to the 10-time world champion who's undefeated since 2010.

'Like my father says, I'm Romane and I have to pave my way myself.'

Dicko was inspired to take up judo watching the exploits of compatriot Audrey Tcheuméo on television at the London 2012 Olympics.

Alongside her father, Dicko sat transfixed as the half-heavyweight judoka fought valiantly to capture bronze for France.

She was a budding swimmer until then, but something changed.

'My father, I don't know why, he said, 'Romane, you will do judo!'' she recalls. 'A year later I was on the tatami and the story begins.'

READ: Why France is a heartland of judo

'Baby' on the podium

The young judoka moved up the ranks swiftly, leaving a trail of beaten opponents in her wake.

The Cadets National Championships, Junior European Cup, Cadets European Championships ... Dicko won them all.

Overcoming her relative inexperience, she also walked away with heavyweight gold at the senior 2016 French Championships in Montbeliard, becoming the first ever cadet to triumph over her elders in the history of the discipline. She didn't yet even have her black belt.

A year later she was already a part of the French senior squad at the Budapest World Championships.

Fondly nicknamed 'baby' by her teammates, Dicko once again proved age was just a number, helping France to the podium in the team competition.

'Before my fight I was a nobody,' says Dicko. 'Suddenly I was a bronze medalist.'

It wasn't quite the Olympics, but with a bronze in the bag she was already well on her way to emulating her idol.

Tcheuméo says it's a source of great motivation to be able to inspire youngsters like Dicko to follow in her footsteps. Now the two fight side by side.

READ: 'Something I keep in mind is never to back down' -- Uta Abe

European champion

After taking gold in April's Tbilisi Grand Prix, the Tel Aviv 2018 European Championships thrust Dicko into a global spotlight.

There, fresh from winning the junior equivalent, she defeated established Bosnian competitor Larisa Ceric in the final to be crowned senior continental champion just five years after taking up the sport.

'I think like all competitions I came to win,' shrugs Dicko. 'I wanted to get to the podium. When I got to the final I thought 'I can't lose the final.'

'I'm only 18 so I just did what I knew how to do. I wasn't expecting to get the title so I was happy.'

Her father Daniel was there watching and says he still deems her exploits 'indescribable,' admitting he was surprised by his daughter's strength on such a stage.

'The whole family was happy,' he tells CNN. 'But expressing it isn't easy. It's not easy because it's just the beginning of a journey.'

READ: What judo can teach us about life

Feet on the ground

Next on the horizon are the Baku 2018 World Championships and, beyond that, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where judo will return to its homeland.

She's still balancing sport with her university studies but Dicko is already among the favorites.

Fortunately her dad is there to keep her grounded.

'He follows me whether it's here or abroad,' she says. 'He takes up more shifts at work so he can make it to my competitions even when it's far, in China [or] Croatia.

'He always comes and I think it's important because I know he's here whether I win or I lose.'

Dicko recalls her first senior match on home soil where she was defeated by Belarus' heavyweight Maryna Slutskaya in the first round, exiting the 2017 Paris Grand Slam in tears.

'My dad and coach came to see me after to comfort me and reassure me that I had time,' she says. 'Mentally I got stronger and that was thanks to them.

'I have a lot of people who gravitate around me and who help me keep my feet on the ground, allowing me to completely focus on my sport because everything is dealt with. I think it's very important to be well surrounded.'

READ: The judoka who switched countries for Olympic gold

Step by step

Already mobbed for autographs in France, it's testament to Dicko's humble approach that Olympic glory isn't yet something on her mind.

'Two years is still far away. I try to focus on the season ahead,' she says. 'So first this year, then next year, then the year after that.

'I think before you can think of an Olympic podium you have to first think of a podium in the World Championships, so I go step by step.'

How good can Romane Dicko become? Have your say on CNN Sport's Facebook page

Visit CNN.com/judo for more news and features

It's an ethos echoed by her father.

'They say the next Teddy Riner because their journeys are quite similar,' smiles Daniel. 'Romane Dicko is Romane Dicko. She has to make a name for herself. That's very important to us.

'She has to make her own way. On each step there will be written 'RD, RD, RD Romane Dicko...'



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