Karina Bryant, the most consistently successful of British medal winners over the last decade, finished second in the heavyweight category at the 100-nation World Championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands on Sunday 30th August. It was Britain’s only medal of the five-day event, which she secured when she downed Franziska Konitz of Germany with uchimata in the semi-final, having grabbed her opponent’s belt, pulled her opponent to her and then driven her onto the mat for ippon.
In the final, Karina was overwhelmed by China’s Wen Tong, the defending champion and Olympic gold medallist. In an early skirmish in newaza, Karina, twice looked in difficulties but she escaped at last. Tong then tried her favourite right seionage but Karina survived, only to be warned for passivity. Tong attacked again with her shoulder throw and this time, the Briton was bowled over for ippon.
Still, her earlier victories over Lucija Polavder of Slovenia and Vanessa Zambotti of Mexico, as well as her clear-cut defeat of Konitz of Germany, shows that she remains a top-class competitor. Margaret Hicks, British Judo’s Performance Director, said:”We are delighted with Karina’s medal. It is also encouraging how our GB coaches are working with her club coach, Luke Preston, who is engaging in our programme.”
Karina will be 33 years-old by the time of the London Olympics but this may not be too old for her to have another tilt at the one thing missing from her career – an Olympic medal. Heavyweights often can win medals in their thirties, provided they retain their enthusiasm for training. Although Britain may have bought back just this one medal from the 100-nation world championships, Margaret insists that the squad is “on the right track” in the build-up to the London Olympics, stating that this year has been one of getting the foundations right as huge changes have been made to the programme, particularly with the completion of Dartford as the high performance centre.
For the tournament in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, unprecedented for the fact that no Japanese male won a gold medal for the first time in the 54 years of the event, Britain entered a full team of 14, with the target, agreed with UK Sport, of two of them reaching the top eight in the world. This they secured, through Karina Bryant’s second place in the heavyweights and Sally Conway’s 5th place in the under 70 kilos division. UK Sport has a rigorous assessment of results for all sports and has a ‘traffic light’ practice in operation, giving governing bodies ‘green’, ’yellow’ and ‘red’ lights and can halt funding if they are dissatisfied with the progress—or lack of it.
Margaret says:”2009 has been a foundation year. We had to rebuild after Beijing and restructure the training and administration. Detailed work has only been going on since April and we are pretty pleased with how things are going. Patrick Roux is doing some excellent work together with the other coaches such as Jane Bridge and Tsuyoshi Tsunoda. He is changing people’s thinking, improving basic movements and getting people to see why we need to make those changes. Of course, we would have liked to have had medals but we hit our target about right. This was, I emphasise, a transitional year.” In other words, the senior squad is a work in progress and until some of the fighters have adapted, medals cannot necessarily be expected.
There is no question that the break-up of the Soviet Union, nearly 20 years ago, has increasingly resulted in fields of much denser talent with countries, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Azerbaijan, now fielding individual competitors, as well, of course, as Russia itself. This has combined with the steady improvement of other nations – Colombia being a perfect example with Yuri Alvear proving a most impressive winner of the under 70 kilos division.
This week will be a period of recovery for the team before the squad reassembles in its two locations, Scotland and Dartford, to build up for the World Cup in Birmingham on September 19 and 20. This will be followed by a training camp in Dartford, when teams from Brazil, Canada, Austria and Belgium are expected.
Of the two competitors, who reached the top eight in the World Championships, Margaret says:”Sally has come through strongly. She won the German ‘B’ tournament and is now connected to the elite level as a senior. As for Karina, Beijing did not work for her and she is now committed to the programme at Dartford. Her posture is better and she is attacking more. ”
Britain were further handicapped here by deliberately not competing this year in many of the tournaments that bring world rankings. This resulted in Britons getting some hazardous draws. Ashley McKenzie (under 60 kilos), Kimberley Renicks (under 48kilos) and Sophie Johnstone (under 52 kilos) all drew outstanding competitors in their first bouts. Sarah Clark, the one British medallist at the European Championships this year, also had a difficult task, losing narrowly in her second bout in the under 57 kilos to Kaori Matsumoto of Japan. Neither Peter Cousins, (under 100 kilos), nor Euan Burton,(under 81 kilos), who both got on the podium at the 2007 championships, fought for a medal this time.
By John Goodbody
photos Janos Schmidt