David Douillet won Olympic gold in 1996 & 2000
Hailed as a sporting icon in France, he served as the country's Minister of Sport
When it came to the French population choosing its favorite national athlete in 2000, winning the Euro Championships wasn’t enough for Zinedine Zidane.
Instead, it was judoka David Douillet who, having collected his second Olympic gold medal in Sydney, was crowned “Champion des champions Francais” by publication L’Equipe – ahead of the national football team’s talisman.
That Olympic title was Douillet’s last major triumph in a glittering career. The heavyweight won medals at three Olympic Games – gold also in Atlanta and bronze in Barcelona – and four World Championship titles, most notably in 1995 when he claimed both the heavyweight and open classes in Chiba, Japan, a feat only previously matched by Japanese fighters Yasuhiro Yamashita and Naoya Ogawa.
Standing 1.96 meters tall and weighing in at 125kg, Douillet was a formidable presence on the tatami.
He burst onto the scene as a 22-year-old at the 1992 Olympics, defeating Cuba’s Franck Moreno Garcia in the bronze medal match. He would go on to become France’s first heavyweight world champion the following year when he was victorious in Canada.
After securing his historic double in Chiba, Douillet went to the Olympic Games in Atlanta with a reputation as one of the sport’s most feared forces. The Frenchman duly delivered, overturning Ernesto Pérez in the final to claim his first Olympic gold.
A rocky ride
The journey behind Douillet’s gold medal in Sydney was far from straightforward, almost from the moment he had won in Atlanta.
The Frenchman was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 1996 and forced into eight months of rehab, something he said helped “rekindle his desire” to return to the mat stronger.
And he did, defeating Japan’s Shinichi Shinohara at the 1997 world championships, a victory made even sweeter in front of home crowds in Paris.
He carried the weight of a nation into the Sydney Olympics. As France’s flag-bearer, this was Douillet’s final chance to add to his illustrious medal collection after a 15-month injury absence.
As he battled his way to the final, it was once again Shinohara who he met in a title-deciding fight, and, despite the Japanese athlete’s protestations over judges’ rulings, it was Douillet who was crowned champion after five minutes of fighting.
With that, Douillet bid goodbye to the sport – a hero in France and his place in the judo history books secured. With six major titles, he eclipsed Japanese great Yamashita at the pinnacle of judo’s heavyweight category.
Since then, he has moved into politics, serving as France’s Minister of Sport between September 2011 and May 2012.
His record didn’t last long, however – another Frenchman was soon to step onto the scene. Teddy Riner is on a 144-match winning streak. He’s won 10 world titles and two Olympic golds.
Dig around on the internet, and you may stumble across a poignant photo dating from 1997. An eight-year-old Riner, a slip of the six-foot-eight, 140-kg mountain he is today, is dwarfed under the sizable arm of Olympic and World champion Douillet.
Two generations of athlete. Two French icons. Two legends of judo.