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France stunned as judo star’s coach cleared of domestic violence

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Margaux Pinot says she feared her partner would kill her, but judge says there is not enough proof of guilt


French sports stars and politicians have expressed anger at the acquittal of a coach accused of domestic violence against the Olympic judo champion Margaux Pinot, as the state prosecutor launched an appeal.

Pinot, 27, a gold medallist at the Tokyo Olympics, had serious facial injuries including a fractured nose when she filed a police complaint in the early hours of Sunday. She said her partner and trainer, Alain Schmitt, had attacked her at her flat outside Paris, wrestled her to the ground, verbally abused her, punched her many times, repeatedly smashed her head on to the ground and tried to strangle her.

Pinot said she managed to escape the apartment with the aid of neighbours and called police. Officers arrested and questioned Schmitt that night.

The case was fast-tracked to a court hearing on Tuesday where Schmitt, 38, denied the allegations. The state prosecutor requested a one-year suspended sentence for what they deemed “very serious violence”. But the judge decided there was not “enough proof of guilt” for the prosecution to proceed. “A court is never there to tell who is telling the truth and who is lying,” the judge said.

Schmitt told the court that he denied the allegations “100%” and that it had been a fight between lovers, started by Pinot.

Pinot posted a picture of her swollen, injured face on social media. She talked of the “blood across the floor of my apartment” and said: “What was missing? My death at the end, perhaps? It’s probably judo that saved me and my thoughts go out to other women who cannot say the same.”

Schmitt, with bruising around his eye, gave a press conference where he said he felt he had been put on trial by social media. He said Pinot was lying and he denied all of the allegations. He said they had had an argument, that Pinot had punched him and pushed him into a door and that as he had tried to get away they had bumped into a wall and a radiator. He said she had made him fall on her. His lawyer said Pinot had “behavioural problems”.

He said: “In my life, I’ve never punched anyone … It’s not possible for me to have punched someone and they ran away and I caught up with them – it’s not possible. And all of that after I supposedly pushed her head into the ground? It’s a joke … She’s lying of course.”

He added: “She jumped on me and grabbed me by the collar. I moved back, she pushed me against a doorframe. I banged my head. I got up a bit dazed. She punched me and it escalated. We banged into walls, a radiator, a door.”

Pinot and her lawyer then gave their own press conference where, with bruising across her face, she recounted her version of the night’s events and described how she had thought she was going to die. “He grabbed me by the hair, pulled me to the ground, got astride me and started to pull out my hair and bang my head on the ground. He wanted to strangle me,” Pinot said.

She said she thought to herself she had to find a way to get out of the apartment “otherwise I’ll die”. She said of his press conference that he was lying and trying to make out she was a “hysterical woman”.

Alain Schmitt
Alain Schmitt at a press conference in Paris on Wednesday. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Pinot has described a relationship of controlling behaviour and verbal abuse. Schmitt did not want their relationship to be known about, she said, and he often verbally abused her, saying her career would go nowhere and criticising her personality. Pinot said the weekend’s attack began with Schmitt making belittling comments. She said she lay on her bed with fingers in her ears not to hear it, and then the blows started. She said he had on previous occasions smashed things in her apartment.

Her lawyer said neighbours heard Pinot’s screams for help and took her into their flat.

The sports minister, Roxana Mărăcineanu, said she supported Pinot, “who for me is clearly the victim in what has happened”. The French judo stars Teddy Riner and Clarisse Agbégnénou also publicly backed Pinot. Riner said there should be more support for victims.

Pinot also had the support of the French judo federation, which said it was shocked by her injuries.

The mayor of Paris and Socialist presidential candidate, Anne Hidalgo, backed Pinot, as did another presidential candidate on the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

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