True force of nature, the 2011 world champion dreams of the Olympic title in -78 kg. A goal at your fingertips for this extraordinary athlete stuffed with talent.
Audrey Tcheumeo, European champion in 2014 in Montpellier. PASCAL GUYOT / PHOTO AFP / PASCAL GUYOT
Audrey Tcheuméo does not like that. Keep telling her that she is a judo monster; that with its potential, it should already be loaded with several world titles; that with its strength, it should put into orbit any competitor that presents itself in its path, etc. She has had too much of it, of those laurels thrown before she even fights, and which almost never land on her head. So for the Rio Olympics, where she will defend her chances Thursday, August 11, she prefers to be cautious: “You know, it’s so random. The Olympics, it’s irrational, we can not explain what’s going on. “
She’s like that, Audrey Tcheuméo. Never very talkative, she speaks with her feelings, a spontaneity of her own. Because it “does not calculate” . She says the Olympics are a hell of a lot and she knows what she’s talking about. When she appeared in London in 2012, for the first time, she was the reigning world champion. Everything was going well until, in the semifinal, a famous British stranger named Emma Gibbons pushed her to the Golden Score to finally win. If she managed to hold on to the third step of the podium, she keeps a bitter memory of this traumatic experience. Sickening.
” I do not know what happened. At one point, it becomes the black hole in your head. You doubt. The pressure, all that, it gets too hard, “ she describes. The seconds become minutes and the fight escapes you, inexorably. That’s what happened to her on this day of August 2012. Because she thought she was too big. Because we saw her too big. And that a masterful stroke of life, a year ago, had made her glimpse too many (false) promises when she was not expecting it.
Yet, some clues were on the way. In December 2010, she started the season winning the prestigious Tokyo Grand Slam, in 2011 she won the no less prestigious Paris Tournament and in April she became European Champion in Istanbul. So frankly, to become world champion at age 21, in front of her audience in Bercy, was it so unpredictable? Yes, anyway, yes …
Audrey Tcheuméo did not start judo until she was 15 years old. For a long time she hesitated between boxing, tennis and football before pushing the door of a dojo. By his own admission, this tactile sport where fighters fight in pajamas did not really pack him. It was afterwards, pushed by her constant coach Omar Gherram, in Villemomble, that she became bitten. That she found her way to become a champion as required by her filiation. Audrey Tcheuméo is the worthy offspring of a former Cameroonian handball international and a father who officiated at the Indomitable Lions in 1980. Could not be born of this combination of unstable elements that explosive cocktail: “Chumi”.
Chumi is his nickname. It is called “Chum” too, in France team. More gracious than “Le Boeuf”, sobriquet by which she had baptized herself in her junior years, which at least had the merit of being explicit. Because it is true, still (especially) today, Tcheuméo is a sacred ox. All you have to do is see your right hand stick to your opponent’s neck, bend the madwoman who ventures to stand up to her, to see the thing.
Audrey Tcheuméo, at the London Olympics in 2012. FRANCK FIFE / AFP
This physical judo, instinctive one could say, she imposed it very quickly on the junior circuit where she won a silver medal at the World Championships in Bangkok (Thailand), in 2008. From then on, the coaches saw in her a big future. At that time, after only four years of judo in the legs, she is matched with the tenors of her generation: the American Kayla Harisson and the Brazilian Mayra Aguiar. These three girls, talented, will no longer cease to truster the world podiums among seniors. Between them, it’s a little “yours, to me”, as evidenced by the ranking of the last world championships. In 2010, Kayla wins in Tokyo, in 2011, it is Audrey who wins the title in Paris, and in 2014, it is Mayra who takes the crown in Chelyabinsk in Russia.
2011 and the title of Audrey, let’s go right back. If world gold could be considered, considering his performance this season, few would have bet on such a brilliant victory. Firstly because the judoka, so soon after starting judo, was a bit technically limited. And nobody, but then nobody (not even her), would have thought that it would atomize the Japanese No. 1 Akari Ogata on a “broom” (the name she gave to her de-ashi-barai). For the simple reason that two weeks before the deadline, she had never worked. For the record, it was Cathy Fleury, Olympic champion in 1992, who whispered the idea of this movement that was going to wreak havoc.
Audrey Tcheumeo takes Alena Kachorovskaya to the European Championships in Montpellier in 2014. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL GUYOT / AFP PHOTO / PASCAL GUYOT
Just haloed, in a moment of euphoria that had seen her friends Gévrise Emane (-63 kg) and Lucie Décosse (-70 kg) shine, the new champion of -78 kg had at the same time the red bib reserved for supporters of the world title an indestructible judoka label she had trouble assuming. For glory carries its share of magical as well as painful moments. “In 2011, I suddenly had a lot of friends. They were much less numerous when things did not turn round . Victory has a thousand fathers, the defeat is orphan. From now on, I’m only going to live for myself, “she told L’Equipe , even admitting that for a while she had planned to hang up the kimono.
Counter-performances, sawtooth results alternated with happier moments. Able to lose against a ghost in the first round of the tournament in Paris, she could also, when she decided, win hands down the championships of Europe. What she did four times in her career. There is sometimes something frustrating to see Audrey Tcheuméo evolve on the tatami. Largely above her opponents physically, she can cross black holes in a fight. This is where the statement stands out: the mind, which was once its strength, sometimes experiences some turbulence. Like this fight for the world bronze medal lost in 2015 against the German Malzahn she had beaten many times.
Paradoxically, it is in technology that it has progressed the most. At 26, the French has a very rich judo made of great attacks of legs, tai-otoshi and harai-goshi overpowered. If the mind and the technique finally manage to agree to Rio, we can affirm already that it will manage to make everyone agree. Because she is the real boss of the category. But do not say it too hard: she does not like it.