The preparation event for the World Judo Championships at Walsall provided an excellent insight into how team UK are moving forward. Speaking exclusively to “TheSportFeed”, Judokas Gemma Howell, Ashley McKenzie, Amy Livesey, Jemima Yeats-Brown, Chelsie Giles & Nekoda Smythe-Davis all alluded to the efforts they have to make to keep involved with the sport they clearly love.
For a contact sport it’s normal to have niggles but when the aim is to throw someone onto a mat in order win scoring points, the “niggles” can be more painful. At the moment, Gemma Howell is awaiting confirmation from her physio and doctor that the repairs to the knee will have healed in time to resume full training. It is a sign of her single mindedness that an operation which can keep footballers out of action for several weeks is classed by Gemma as “.. only a small operation, just a bit of cartilage……”
Needless to say she has no doubt that the response will be anything but “Yes” to allow her to complete.
For Nekoda Smythe-Davis she has had a relatively injury free run since May, and that has been reflected in her rise up the world rankings to 3rd in her weight class, Yet, whilst the self belief that she can medal again burns through, nothing is take for granted. As she said “at this level it’s whoever has it together on that day” that counts and can make the difference.
Also part of the preparation exercise is learning how to manage the exertions on the body, as months of training and competition doesn’t always allow the body to recover. So a week off, can re-invigorate both the body and mind. Similarly the training will be structured towards the build up.
The finals will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan during Sept 2018, a place that will be welcoming and enchanting, but may take up to 11 hours from departing a UK airport to getting to the local hotel. That type of travel, with jet lag and time differences can also impact upon an athletes conditioning. The judokas occasionally travel further and across more time zones than the one to Baku, so they have developed routines to manage the situation. Some will take protein supplements with them, whilst others will know the local delicacies and tailor their diets around them. No mention of any tins of baked beans.
In order to get where they are, the judokas have followed varying routes. It may have been a case of someone involved with judo going to a local school at an early age and highlighting the positive of being able to use up the surplus energy that kids can have, or listing judo as a method of defending yourself, or just following in a family tradition
Amy Liveseys’ brother, Chris, and sister Bekky, were, and Bekky‘s still is, involved in judo, so she eventually succumbed to it’s lure after first disliking it. For Ashley, Pokémon changed his life.
“I got into a bit of a scrap on the street and a guy threw me. I thought “”What’s going on here?””. I got up and he took my Pokémon card and I went to hit him again and he threw me again. “”What’s going on here?”” So I went home and said to my mum that guy threw me, and [we checked] judo came up. I went to the nearest judo club. I got the card back”
Jemima has a slightly different challenge to take from the majority as she is moving up a weight class whilst at the same time other judokas are moving down to her class. So in effect she will be competing against someone who will have a greater muscle percent of body weight whilst she is still developing her body. Typical of attitude of team UK, it’s merely viewed as another challenge but one that can be overcome. Jemima’s view, and one shared by the others in the team, is that “You would never want to go in [to a tournament] without wanting or expecting to win”
One striking note from the 14 person team selected to travel to Baku is that 11 of the team are female, so why is judo so popular amongst the women? Ashley’s view is that it may have something to the previous successes of Karina Bryant (who won the Junior World Title in 1996 at the start of a glittering career that netted amongst other things, 7 World Championship medals) and Gemma Gibbons (silver medallist at the Olympics in 2012), continuing now with Sally Conway, who recently won gold in Paris earlier this year.
That view is echoed to a certain extent be Nekoda. “ I would probably say that is you got the numbers across all of the people who do judo, that’s from grass roots all the way up to elite level there are probably more men ,,,, at the top end we are very women dominant and I think that probably has just come from our success”
Jemima believes that the gap may narrow as they have “a really strong boy’s team coming through but not just yet quite ready for it”
One thing that all these people require is funding. Travelling across the globe to tournaments is not cheap and the bank of mum and dad is seldom an option. Funding is essential and as you would expect, there are different sources. Whilst those at the judo centre in Walsall may obtain central funding from, for example the National Lottery or UK Sport, for others moving to the midlands, and leaving their fields and family behind, which some have done, are not an option. So sponsorship or even promotional ties are required, which is very much a chicken and egg situation. Successful athletes are any sport will always have the big brands chasing them, but as you start out and do not have a history of success then you have to have a burning desire to progress, a trait that was evident amongst those interviewed.
It’s not always work, work, work thought. Travelling the globe to take part is tournaments doesn’t always allow time to explore the places, but every now and then an opportunity does crop up. As the judokas reeled off a list of places that they have had the opportunity to visit, whenever Miami was mentioned a smile crept out across their faces.
Good luck to them all
Words & Images – Ged Noonan – The Sport Feed