France-England in 1996 has been remembered as one of the most epic, intense and thrilling world finals in history. Brainwashing, reversals, genius shots... Victory will be played at the end of the end of suspense, in the prolongation of the extra fight ! With sudden death ! The two heroes, Gilles Cherdieu and Wayne Otto, who became individual world champions two days later, remember it as if it was yesterday... Karate time !

By Ludovic Mauchien / Photos : Archives FFKarate

Sun City, 1996. For the 4th time in 10 years, England and France meet in the final of the World championships. Two years before, the French team won the title against the… English one. Will they establish their supremacy? Will the English retake their « property » (5 titles from 1982 to 1990) ? The stakes are great ! The final will be just as much. When the last fight stars, England leads 2 to 1 (13 Waza ari to 12). Gilles Cherdieu must win by 2 points against Tony Gray to secure the victory. The legend begins…

« This guy always spoiled the fights », remembers the Frenchman. « That's what he did ! I had a terrible time. There are 2-2 then 4-2. Ho comes back to 4-3 to… 3 seconds from the end. I am in a daze. I manage to put a Gyaku Chudan on him. We win (5-3) ! We are champions ! We line up. The referee gives us winners. And it all begins... Donovan (the English coach) rushes to the tatami screaming. He makes a complaint. We stay aligned for 10 minutes. The audience whistles. And the referees finally agree with the English (note : time not restarted) ».

Final score : 4-3. Perfect equality after 5 fights. An extra fight must be completed. « I saw it coming! », smiles Cherdieu. « I was like : « This bullshit is going to be for me again! », I was not proud. What a pressure !!! I barely felt my legs. I kept saying to myself : « what the hell am I doing here ? » (laughs). You don't want to experience such pressure but, meanwhile, it’s so good ».

Tension is at its height… « We knew that the English were watching us. We meet in a circle. We decide to hide myself. Le Hetet sees Cole warming up. He takes his gloves as if he were going to fight. The referee calls us. Wayne and I then emerge from behind. They had the same idea! », laughs Gilles Cherdieu.


The actors are known. End of suspense ? No way ! Hajime!... « Otto was very, very, very strong ! There is no longer a noise in the stadium. We observe each other. It’s a war of nerves. I make a little mistake. He scores ! (0-1, 1:45 to play). I know if I leave it like this, it’s done. I attack at 3000 miles per hour. I’ve never pushed so much on my legs in my life. I am sure I hurt him ! He didn’t show it to me but the way I hit, with rage, fear, lots of mixed feelings, I am sure he got hurt. Tie, 1-1. Neither of us dares to attack. We know that if we make a mistake, we will be punished immediately. And he does a small one… He often flicked his front leg, faked a sweep and went Gyaku. There are barely 10 seconds left. He does his flick. As soon as I feel his foot, I go Gyaku and I score : 2-1 ! I go back to the center. Otto rushes at me, I block him but he does something to me !!!... He blocks me with his back arm and hit me with his front arm. 2-2 on the bell ! ».

Seen from the English side, it gives that : « I maintain that the referee, 2 seconds from the end, was going to give me Ippon and he changed to Waza, otherwise I would have won », bursts out laughing today Wayne Otto. « I didn’t expect to do the extra fight. I was a little distracted. Gilles was very fast. I have always had trouble with him. And, to counter-attack, he we was the best ».


6 fights took place. The teams are perfectly equal. 3-3, 18 Waza ari both). The hour of the brave is ringing again : En Sho Sen ! With the sudden death rule. « I could take it anymore !!! », remembers Gilles Cherdieu. « I no longer knew if I should attack or counter-attack. Then Otto starts doing something he never did : body swerves. I particularly liked these movements which gave me time. He does it 1 time, 2 times and, on the 3rd, I go Gyaku Jodan. It’s the best point of my career ! He didn’t expect it. He did not move. It was make-or-break. If I missed him, he wouldn't have missed me !  ».

« In an instant, everything was gone... », says Wayne Otto. « But it’s a very strong feeling to be at this high level. One of us must have left sad. It was me. This is the most horrible but also the most fabulous moment of my career ! I still dream of this fight. It was a great fight ! Fighting a French was always a difficult battle, but it was also a challenge that we looked forward to. Everyone had a mission : to prove that he was the best. We made some good fights ! I loved every moment (he laughs) ».

Gilles Cherdieu for the last word : « I owe him respect. He’s a great fighter. We hug. I feel that he needs to evacuate. He said to me, « If you think it's fair, no problem, man ». He was very fair play ! We greet each other and I burst into tears. These moments are... But I was also quiet sad... I respected and admired Otto. I see him, head down. He also cried. Then I wanted to be alone, to refresh myself. It’s a great moment but it’s tough mentally and physically. If I should have fought the day after, I would have lost ». Two days later, Gilles Cherdieu (-80 kg) and Wayne Otto (-75 kg) became World champions in individual !