Launched into a very tight race for the Olympic selection, Romane Dicko scored points by being crowned European champion over 78 kg for the fourth time in her career, Sunday in Montpellier.
Dicko, still undefeated at continental level after her victories in 2018, 2020 and 2022, beat Israeli Raz Hershko, world No.1 in the category, in the final like last year, in an expeditious manner.
It allows France to offer itself a fifth title in the competition after those of Shirine Boukli (-48 kg), Amandine Buchard (-52 kg), Marie-Eve Gahié (-70 kg) and Luka Mkheidze (-60 kg ).
“It’s a European title in addition (...), I hope that I will still have plenty, but there is an Olympic medal to get before that,” reacted the 24-year-old judoka, in competition for selection for the Paris Games with Julia Tolofua, not selected in Montpellier due to shoulder surgery. “It's nice to perform in France, and in an Olympic race which is complicated in my category, it was really important to bring home the gold medal today,” insisted Dicko.
On the road to the final, the Frenchwoman successively dominated the Austrian Maria Hoellwart then the Dutch Karen Stevenson and Marit Kamps, each time in less than two minutes. In the final, she defeated Hershko by ippon in 34 seconds. “I managed to free myself and in the final I really wanted to knock (my opponent) down and win in style, I think I did it so it's cool!” she said.
Dicko, who revealed herself at the Tokyo Games in 2021 by winning an individual bronze medal, confirmed immediately by winning the World Championships in Tashkent in 2022 for her first participation, then the Masters at the end of the year last.
But an accident at the World Championships in Doha last May and the rise of Julia Tolofua, a regular medalist at the highest level and reigning vice-world champion, made the selection for the Paris Olympics more uncertain than expected.
“She found herself,” said Christophe Massina, the boss of the French women’s team. “She scores points, European champion, it’s not nothing, but we will take stock when it is necessary to do so.” Dicko was the only Frenchwoman to reach the podium on this last day of competition in Hérault.
Madeleine Malonga, Olympic vice-champion in Tokyo, and the returning Audrey Tcheuméo, fighting for the Olympic ticket in -78 kg, both missed their meeting. Unrecognizable, Tcheuméo lost in the repechage, while Malonga was beaten as soon as she entered the fray.
“I was withdrawn, I didn’t free myself. However, I wasn't stressed. I was on restraint, on calculation, which is not my strong point, and I did not manage to release the brakes,” regretted Tcheuméo, a double Olympic medalist. Malonga also expressed her disappointment, while ensuring that she would bounce back. “I know this is not the end. Given the way I worked, it’s not possible for it to stop there,” she said.
Among the men, Alexis Mathieu, despite a good start to the day, also stumbled in the -90 kg repechage. In total and eight months before the Paris Olympic Games, the Blues leave Montpellier with nine medals, one more than last year in Sofia.ndes.