While playing rugby league as a young boy, Tauranga-born Rihari Iki was encouraged to learn judo to help him roll and fall against players twice his size.

He was playing under-8 and under-10 rugby league and remembers his parents putting him into judo to learn skills such as rolling, falling and protecting his head that could help him on the field.

That was when his judo career began.

Fast forward to today and the 17-year-old Tauranga-born athlete, who lives in Perth, is a national judo champ in both countries and has been named to represent New Zealand in judo at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.


The young athlete has been competing all over the world, training in Japan and competing in Hong Kong, Macau, Noumea and Australia to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, and his hard work has paid off.

This year he won the age group National Judo Championships in both New Zealand and Australia, is ranked eighth in the world in his age bracket and will compete in the men's under-81kg judo event.

Iki, who cites being the national champion in his weight category in both countries as a highlight of his career so far, says he hopes to get "a lifetime of lessons to carry me through life" at the Youth Olympic Games as well as using it as preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

He says judo has given him so much.

"The comradery, discipline, physical and mental challenges that come with judo.

"I love the constant learning and techniques used, that push my body and mind to react in unexpected situations.

"It teaches me humility, how to be a graceful loser and how to come back a winner."

Judo New Zealand president Dave Browne says Iki has put in a lot of hard work to gain selection.

"Rihari has been targeting the right training opportunities and selecting the best tournaments to advance his young judo career.

"He's targeting a medal at the Youth Olympic Games and is a great prospect."

The 2018 Youth Olympic Games will be the third summer Youth Games, following those in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing in 2014.

The Games are a pre-elite development opportunity for the world's most promising young athletes, allowing them to experience a multi-sport games environment while exposing them to learning and cultural opportunities and helping them on the performance pathway.