French athletes have expressed disbelief over the acquittal of a coach accused of domestic violence against Olympic judo champion Margaux Pinot.
Ms Pinot accused her partner and judo trainer Alain Schmitt of punching and attempting to strangle her during an altercation over the weekend. The Olympic gold medallist, 27, filed a complaint against Mr Schmitt.
He was arrested but denied the allegations and was acquitted in court.
A judge said there was not “enough proof of guilt” for the prosecution to proceed when delivering his verdict in a preliminary hearing on Wednesday. “A court is never there to tell who is telling the truth and who is lying,” the judge said.
Shortly after the hearing, Ms Pinot tweeted a picture of her swollen face, marked by cuts and several bruises. In one tweet, in which she alluded to her wounds and “the blood strewn on the floor of my apartment”, she asked: “What was missing? My death at the end, perhaps?”
“It was probably judo that saved me,” she added in the tweet. “And my thoughts are also with those women who can’t say the same.” Prosecutors have said they will appeal against the verdict. In court, they requested a one-year suspended prison sentence for what they described as “very serious violence”.
In her complaint, Ms Pinot accused Mr Schmitt of assaulting her at her home in a suburb of Paris during the night of Saturday and early hours of Sunday. She said she had escaped and taken refuge with neighbours, who called the police. Ms Pinot said she had been taken to hospital where she received treatment for several injuries, including a broken nose.
But Mr Schmitt, 38, appeared in court to deny the allegations. He called them “100% false” and accused Ms Pinot of starting the fight, which he said had involved judo holds, according to French reports. French media said bruises were visible on his face as he described the incident as a fight between lovers. “I have never hit a woman in my life, it’s rubbish,” he told the court.
His defence lawyer, Malik Behloul, disputed Ms Pinot’s version of events. “With the strength that this man [Mr Schmitt] has, he is quite capable of doing a great deal more harm than that,” Mr Behloul argued. Mr Schmitt was arrested hours before he was expected to take over as head coach of the Israeli national women’s judoka team. But the Israel Judo Association told AFP news agency it had suspended all contact with Mr Schmitt following the allegations.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Schmitt and Ms Pinot held separate news conferences to explain the circumstances of the altercation in more detail. Mr Schmitt, who appeared to have a black eye, said he had gone for a drink before visiting Ms Pinot’s home, where he intended to print documents before flying out to Israel.
The pair started arguing and Ms Pinot “threw herself on me”, Mr Schmitt said. He described a violent struggle in which they banged into walls, a radiator and a door. He denied punching Ms Pinot and said there had been a “media lynching” against him.
But at her news conference, Ms Pinot disputed his account and accused Mr Schmitt of trying to “make me look like a hysterical woman”. Ms Pinot’s lawyer, Rachid Madid, said he would seek to “set the record straight in this case” and gather additional information to support the appeal.
Earlier, some members of the judo community in France shared messages of support for Ms Pinot, including three-time Olympic champion Teddy Riner. The president of the French Judo Federation, Stéphane Nomis, and female French judo star Clarisse Agbégnénou said they were shocked by the court’s decision.
Ms Pinot has mostly competed in the women’s 70 kg event for France. She has had a career decorated with medals, including a gold in the mixed team event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and a bronze at the World Championships in 2019.