reports from Birmingham
They left the best to the last. By the time the world lightweight champion, Nicola Fairbother, walked on to the mat for her final yesterday against Spain's Isabel Fernandez, the British fighters had picked up one silver and four bronzes from the European Championships here - strong on numbers but short on the best.
There was a tangible anxiety in the crowd and in the team that the event would pass by without a British gold. But by staying composed when it really mattered - all the more remarkable because this was her 25th birthday - Nicola Fairbrother gave her best. She grabbed the belt of Fernandez a minute into the final and flipped her backwards in a sacrifice throw for seven points - and then stayed in command for the remainder of the match.
More unexpected was the victory of the bantamweight Nigel Donohue, who won a European silver in 1990.
He won a harsh scrap in the semi-finals against France's Yacime Douma but took charge in the final against Georgia's Georgi Vazagachvili. Donohue went well ahead on attacks until 53 seconds from the end when he was penalised for negative action. When all looked lost, he produced a leg grab from nowhere for five points, and finished it off with a magnificent pick-up for ippon, judo's perfect score, to take the match and the title.
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