Judo: Howey's last throw at her own weight

After 10 years at the top in international judo, Kate Howey still offers Britain's best hope of a medal at the World Championships, which begin in Paris today. Philip Nicksan assesses her chances.

In the official programme for the four-day world championships in Paris, which start today, Kate Howey is the only British fighter to be accorded an extended interview - which indicates the international view of Britain's chances at this event.

From the 13-member team no one else is considered to be in the running for a medal - and certainly not for a gold or silver.

There is some truth in this brutal international realism. For although Kate Howey only managed a bronze in the European Championships in May, she does have the ability to beat anyone in her category. She has even arm-locked the fearsome Korean world and Olympic champion, Min-Sung Cho.

Even though Howey is only 24, she knows she is coming to the end of her chances to take the world title that just eluded her in 1993. Since then, she has come down a weight category, to the middleweight she was when, at the age of 15, she first fought for her country at senior level.

And there is the rub. For while 24 is not very old for judo, Howey has been fighting at the very top for over a decade, which means many years of pressure. Nevertheless she is optimistic: "I feel in top form back at this weight now," she said.

She also knows there is another reason why she must not let this opportunity slip through her fingers.

For yesterday, the International Judo Federation agreed on some major changes for the sport which will be introduced by the World Championships in Birmingham in 1999. Most significantly, from the fighters' point of view, is the change in weight categories which will see an increase at most levels.

Howey's middleweight, for example, goes from 66 kilos to 70kg, a small change but one that could affect Howey's chances in the future as 66kg seems to be her optimum weight.

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