Olympic Games (judo): Luka Mkheidze, from refugee camp to bronze medal

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Born in Georgia, passed through a refugee camp in Poland, Frenchman Luka Mkheidze brought France its first medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The French judoka took bronze in judo (-60 kg) this Saturday.

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He is the smallest male athlete in the French delegation at the Olympic Games. From the height of his 1.60m, he has become one of the tallest. In the -60kg category, judoka Luka Mkheidze brought France its first Olympic medal, in bronze, this Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics. The native of Tbilisi set the tone at the start by dominating in overtime the Spaniard Francisco Garrigos, an opponent who had beaten him in the final of the European Championships in April in Lisbon. After this beautiful revenge, he then took the steps to the podium, falling only in the semi-finals.

“I am in good shape, I have no injuries, and I did not do a world championship after the Europe, he confided before his entry into the running. I had a big block of work. J ‘was able to do two internships abroad so I prepared quite well. ” In this -60kg category, the France team had been waiting for an Olympic charm since 1980 with Thierry Rey. Sixteen years later, little Luka Mkheidze was born, very far from France, in Tbilisi, Georgia.

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In a refugee camp in Poland

From the age of seven, pushed by his dad, young Luka learned judo. And dreams of the exploits of Georgian judokas. The young man is gifted. At 12, he became champion of Georgia. But her life was turned upside down in 2009. Confronted with poverty, her family fled Georgia. Direction Belarus by plane, then Poland by train where they find refuge in a tent, in a refugee center. “We were given a bag of food with canned food that we ate cold, told the Parisian three years ago. I was going to school while practicing judo but after 8 months, our request to political asylum was refused. We had to leave, for fear of being deported and sent back to Georgia. “

Edouard Philippe’s helping hand

With the help of a smuggler, Luka Mkheidze and his family managed to cross to France in March 2010. They landed in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, in Val-de-Marne. Then, after living for a year in a hotel room in Athis-Mons, still in the suburbs of Paris, he joined another refugee center in Le Havre where he discovered the “luxury” of having toilets and a bathroom. bath. On the tatami mats, he makes his strength speak. But the boost of fate comes in 2015 thanks to a certain Edouard Philippe. The former Prime Minister, then mayor of Le Havre (before becoming it again), indeed facilitated the process for Luka Mkheidze to obtain French nationality. “My club at the time, Judo Perrey Guerrier had requested him as mayor of Le Havre where I lived, to support my approach, he remembers. Usually, it takes a lot more time. but after a few months, I received a letter from Édouard Philippe at my home warning me that I was going to obtain my nationality, an official letter quickly confirmed it. “

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A little later, he was able to thank Edouard Philippe in person: “I had made up my mind to join the French judo team and to be selected for the Worlds… The dream is coming true. Thank you Édouard Philippe ! ” His ascent is underway. At the Sucy Judo club since 2016, he joined Insep a year later. After a silver medal in Europe in Lisbon, Luka Mkheidze will change dimension with this Olympic medal conquered in Tokyo. A deserved glory for an extraordinary destiny.

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