Profile: Christophe Pinna

Frenchman Christoph Pinna was one of the best competitors of his generation. Famed for his dynamic kicking ability, he won multiple titles at European and World level. A remarkable competitor he has returned to active competition, trying to pursue his dream of representing France at the 2020 Olympic games, to be held in Tokyo, Japan.

Christoph Pinna , the youngest of two sons, was born in the Saint Sylvestre district of Nice, France on 18 March 1968. His mother died when he was fourteen.

In 1973 aged five, he began studying Taekwondo under Claude Jurca. By 1985 he had become French Junior Champion, aged seventeen.

Pinna began his military service in 1986 joining the famed Joinville Battalion (Ecole Interamées des Sports).That same year he became the French Military Karate champion, also becoming the French Junior Champion. He followed this by winning the European Junior Championships title.

At the age of eighteen Pinna made the switch to Karate, under Guy Sauvin. At the time in France, Taekwondo was not as popular as Karate. Also Karate was the main martial art studied by Joinville.

By 1990,  Pinna now married, was establishing himself as one of the best Karate competitors in Europe. He represented France at the 1990 European Championships held in Vienna, Austria. In the -80KG individual kumite event he finished joint third with Mervyn Etienne of England. The title was was won by another European great, José Manuel Egea of Spain. He also helped the French team to 3rd place In the team kumite event.

1993 was a breakout year for Pinna. At the World Cup held in Algeria he won his first global title in the individual kumite event. That same year he helped the French team win the team kumite event at the European Championships held in Prague, the Czech Republic.

Pinna won his first individual title in 1994. He won a bronze medal in the individual kumite event held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. He also helped the French team defeat Great Britain in the final of the team kumite event.

The mid to late 1990s saw Pinna achieve great success at the European Championships in both the individual and team kumite events. At the 1995 Championships held in Helsinki, Finland he won his first individual title, winning the open weight event, defeating David Lanna of Italy in the final. He was also a member of the team that defeated England in the team kumite final.

In 1996 Pinna repeated the feat of the previous year at the European Championships held in Paris, France. This time in the final he defeated Sandro Petrillo of Switzerland. In the team kumite final he helped France defeat England. The following year he made history in Tenerife, Spain becoming the first man to win three consecutive open weight titles, defeating teammate Seci Mecheri in the final. He also helped France beat Italy in the team kumite final.

At the 1996 World Championships held in Sun City, South Africa Pinna helped France retain their team kumite title by defeating their main rivals Great Britain in the final. Two years later in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil he helped France win their third consecutive world team title defeating England in the final.

In 1998, following his many successes, Pinna was appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the French National Order of Merit by President Jacques Chirac.

At the 2000 World Championships held in Munich, Germany, Pinna became a double World Champion. He won his first individual World title defeating Davide Benetello in the open weight event. He also helped France defeat house hosts Germany in the team kumite event. Shortly after the competition he retired from competitive Karate, deciding to end his career at the pinnacle of the sport. His successes include:

  • World Championships – Individual kumite – 1st place (2000)
  • World Championships – Individual kumite – 3rd place (1992, 1994)
  • World Cup – Individual  kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • European Championships – Individual kumite – 1st place (1995, 1996, 1997)
  • European Championships – Individual kumite – 3rd place (1990,2000)

Following his retirement from competitive Karate Pinna moved into coaching. He started his coaching career working for the United States National Team in 2000. March of the following year he was appointed coach of the Greek National Team.

September 2001 saw Pinna appointed coach for the National Team of France by the French Federation. The following month he was nominated to be the World Athletes’ representative at the World Karate Federation.

In 2005 Pinna resigned as coach of the French National Team. Shortly after he was asked by the French TV channel TF1 to provide classes for students of the reality show, The Star Academy.

Pinna was promoted to the rank of Officer in the National Order of Merit in November 2005 by the French President. On 3 July of the following year he was awarded the National Order of Merit for his services to sport. The ceremony was held at the Beau Rivage Beach in his home city of Nice.

On 24 September 2011 Pinna was awarded his 6th Dan. The honorary grade was presented to him by Nice Deputy Mayor, Christian Estrosi.

Away from Karate Pinna and his friend Samuel Etienne took part in the Marathon des Sables in 2014.The event is a six-day 251 KM ultra-marathon held annually in the South of Morocco, in the Sahara desert.

On 3 August 2016 it was announced that Karate would be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In order to be a part of the Olympic dream after over fifteen years away from competitive Karate Pinna resumed his training at the age of 48.

Initially he trained himself. He eventually joined Didier Moreau, coach of Leila Heurtault, a team World Champion in 2016. After several months of intensive training interrupted by injuries, he competed at the Alpes-Mauritines District Championships in January 2017. He won the tournament .

Pinna competed in a further two international tournaments in 2017 to familiarise himself self with the changes in the last seventeen years. In March he competed in the Rotterdam Open. A month later he competed in the Dubai Open, losing to Michael Giorgio Tzanos of Greece, a former European Champion.

Knowing the challenges he faces in making the French team for the Olympics, Pinna is honest with himself. There are many changes in the tournament scene he’s had to contend with. Also many of today’s coaches were his former opponents back in his heyday. In 2017 he was ranked 28,000 in the world in the -80KG weight class. By 2018 he had improved to 244th in the world.

As a 50 year old Pinna faced disappointment at the French Championships held in reams. In the -80KG event he lost To Lahad Cisse the eventual winner, in the second round. His defeat has made him re-assess his Olympic dream. At 50 his body is struggling to meet the demands of high-performance competition. He has also faced a lot more injuries. While he has not given up on the Olympic dream he is realistic that he may not get to live it.

Christoph Pinna is a true legend of European and World Karate. A dominant competitor in the 1990s he won almost every medal/title available to him. His pursuit of his Olympic dream, although unsuccessful has been a real inspiration for many showing that the competitive spirit never dies.The video below shows Pinna demonstrating his skills on French television.

Author: Patrick Donkor

2 thoughts on “Profile: Christophe Pinna

  1. Christophe Pinna started with ITF taekwondo .
    His master, Claude Jurca, was trained by Park Jong So in Toronto.
    Christophe Pinna kicks combinaisons are typical to Taekwondo.

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