Judo: Howey weighs up task ahead

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FOR KATE HOWEY, the world middleweight champion, this weekend is as much a test of character as her fighting capabilities. The Tournoi de Paris is the toughest of the A tournaments in the world, with all the leading judo countries competing - Japan, Korea, Russia, as well as four French in every weight.

And Howey, who defends her title in October in Birmingham, has not won a top event for some time - a bronze last May in the European championships was her best result.

The problem has not been her fighting spirit (such a key element in judo), nor her technical ability, but something more prosaic - her weight. Shortly after she won the world title in 1997, in Paris, the International Judo Federation changed the weights, and middleweight went from 66kg to 70kg. The four kilograms has been crucial for Howey - a famously honed fighter.

She trained at 68kg and slimmed down to a mean 66kg for the event - and few could stand in her way. But, unlike most of the rest of the population of Britain, she cannot put on those extra four kilos. "I have such a fast metabolism that it doesn't matter how much I eat - I just sweat it off," Howey, 25, said.

"And when I attack these girls, some of whom used to be 72k players, who trained at 74k or 75k, I find it difficult to move them." Howey intends to take the traditional route of a heavy weights programme in March after the coming crop of events, but first she must battle through the Tournoi de Paris.

It will be important also for the former world lightweight champion Nicola Fairbrother, who needs to demonstrate to the new British chief coach Udo Quellmalz her continuing strengths against her younger rival, the European silver medallist Debbie Allan.

Similarly, this is the case for the middleweight Ryan Birch, another former European champion facing a strong domestic challenge from the younger Winston Gordon. For the lightweight Danny Kingston, the first question is whether he will make the weight - which he failed to do last year. Only then can his unquestioned talents come into play.

GREAT BRITAIN: Men: Bantamweight (u60k): J Johnson. Featherweight (u66k): S Moss. (u73k): D Kingston. Light-middleweight (u80k): G Randall. Middleweight (u90k): R Birch. Women: Featherweight (u52k): E Summers. Lightweight (u57k): N Fairbrother. Light-middleweight (63k): C Peel. Middleweight (70k): K Howey. Light-heavyweight (u78k): M Rogers. Heavyweight (o78k): S Callendar.