Harsh return to top level for Howey

All the leading figures in British judo compete in Paris this weekend - starting the world championship year in the toughest way imaginable. The Tournoi de Paris at the Bercy Stadium, which will also features top Japanese, Cubans, Koreans and French, is widely regarded as one of the sport's most difficult events.

All the leading figures in British judo compete in Paris this weekend - starting the world championship year in the toughest way imaginable. The Tournoi de Paris at the Bercy Stadium, which will also features top Japanese, Cubans, Koreans and French, is widely regarded as one of the sport's most difficult events.

It is a harsh return to the limelight for the Olympic silver medallist Kate Howey, who since her success in Sydney has been more involved with the demonstration of judo than the real thing. "I won it four years ago but this time I just want to find out where I am at," she admitted - though she has rarely come back from international competition without something to show for it. Now 27, she remains constitutionally tough, and explains she is competing despite an ear infection which is slightly affecting her balance.

She is still fighting because all the top competitors, even Howey and the world light-middleweight champion Graeme Randall have been told that, this being the start of a new Olympic cycle, they have to justify their selection for the key events of the year - the European championships in Paris in May, and the World championships in Munich in July.

For Randall this means a direct confrontation with Luke Preston from Camberley Judo Club; for the bantamweights it puts Jaime Johnson and John Buchanan against each other, and in the featherweights David Somerville and James Warren. Particularly intriguing will be the return to the competition mat of Debbie Allan, who failed the weigh-in at Sydney, then won an appeal against a six-month ban, and now fights at the higher category of lightweight (57k). Her main opponent is her Camberley clubmate Jenni Brien, who last weekend posted her first success, a silver medal at the A Tournament in Sofia, Belgium.

In Paris, the lightweights (women: 48k, 52k, 57k; men: 60k, 66k, 81k) fight tomorrow; the middleweights and heavyweights (women 63k, 70k, 78k, +78k; men: 90k, 100k, +100k), fight on Sunday.

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