GB Judo Team Event for Tokyo World Championships
The Team GB Judokas were found to be in good sprits in advance of upcoming World Championships. The 15 athletes had congregated at the Judo HQ based in Walsall and fielded media questions with a relaxed air.
All present firmly had at least one eye on gaining selection for the Olympics that will also take place in Tokyo in 2020. If fact, the Olympic judo event will take place in the same arena as the “worlds” and the 1964 Olympics.
The optimism within the team to step onto the winners podium quite a few times is based upon the recent good form of the Judoka’s; Nekoda Smyth-Davis is the current silver medal holder whilst Gemma Howell (gold in Budapest & Zagreb) and Ashley McKenzie (Silver in Zagreb) have all found levels of success in recent tournaments.
Whereas most sports will have a close season where athletes can give their bodies a break from the intense routine of training, travelling and completion, judo events occur all year around.
As Nekoda told TheSportFeed.com, “We had Paris (Grand Slam) in February, the European’s in March, the Worlds in August and the Masters in December”.
The World Championships will have involved preparations since April so for someone such as Nekoda Smythe-Davis who won a superb silver medal at last years event, a weekly routine may comprise of two training sessions a day, Now Monday mornings are not the best time of the week for me, so the thought of having to start the week with a bout of weight training would see me clutching onto the blankets with a fierce determination.
Yet that is how Sally Conway and others demonstrate their determination to become the best that can be at their art.
Next on the daily agenda will be a series of bouts and to round off the day, there could be an evening session involving practising her throws. I bet they all sleep well after their exhortations.
For a sport that seems to have so much potential in harnessing the unbounded energy of the young and providing them with a discipline and focus, it is overlooked by high profile sponsors and the consequential funding essential for athletes to support their training and travel routines.
In Ashley McKenzie’s case, Judo certainly provided a route to channel his attention. This sport will not make them rich in this country. Yet Nekoda believes that more medal success will raise the profile of the sport and in turn draw more sponsorship in.
In fairness to the sport they are trying to make the competition more media friendly by changing the judo mats (tatami) to what is believed to be a more “TV friendly” combination of colours, with a blue inside and a red outside. Every little helps.
For those who are not based out of the centre in Walsall and are not eligible for direct funding, they need to pursue other lines of income, and this team are very resourceful. Ashley is grateful to a sport that took him away from trouble on the streets and in return seeks to contribute something back, in the way of providing training to others embarking along a path in Judo. That approach may lead to a future role within the sport.
Similarly, Sarah Adlington wants to feed something back into the sport once she retires and she obtained a degree in Sports Management from Edinburgh University last year. Perhaps that may be with gold from the Tokyo Olympics.
Prolific medal collector in her own right, since her victory in Rio, Sally Conway is supported by Red Sky Management, which can involve her hosting motivational talks, well away from the judo mat. It has also given her a potential pathway into a future career. Others have used to waiting/travelling time to develop their studies. Alice Schlesinger is finishing her degree in psychology and promises not to practice it on her team mates. Well not yet anyway.
So whilst some Judokas are supported because they can reside within the umbrella of the Walsall HQ and are funded by the National Lottery and the Judo association, others prefer to stay closer to their family or their homes.
As a measure to ensure that the Judokas don’t pile on the weight during a tournament and seek to gain an advantage, competitors are subject to random weight tests between bouts. Whilst the higher weight bands may navigate this issue easiest, it can be more problematic for the lighter bands. Discipline and routine keep them in check.
“We’ve seen a lot of the world and we’ve seen none of the world” commented Sarah upon being asked about her favourite venues. For Sally, Paris will always have happy memories, and she hasn’t nicked that line from the film Casablanca. It is where she won a gold medal at the prestigious Grand Slam, becoming only the 6th Judoka to have done so. Still, her bronze medal from the 2016 Olympics in Rio is her most treasured trophy. “I feel very, very lucky to be able to travel the world doing the sport that I love’.
Why would anyone want to pick judo as a sport when there are high profiles ones such as football, tennis, rugby etc? “It’s really clichéd but it’s more that just a sport” responded Sarah. ” You learn respect and moral code” she continued. It is also one where the females make up, and have done for several years now, the majority of the team..
In terms of the 2020 Olympics, the first team selection will not take place until the end of April so “It’s a long, hard road physically and mentally’ states Sarah.
We wish them all well.
Words & Images – Ged Noonan