Judo: Stevens sets out to prove a point

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The Independent Online
As the European Championships get underway here today, Neil Adams, the British team manager, can consider with some satisfaction that a total of 10 fighters - six men and four women - have already qualified for the Olympics.

This follows four months on the road, fighting hard in a succession of European tournaments, a far cry from the days when no qualification was needed for the Games, and the elite fighters would peak only for a few big competitions.

Even Nicola Fairbrother, the 25-year-old European lightweight champion, has had to do the circuit. However, she has emerged not only top of the European rankings but she feels a harder, better fighter.

"Before I won the world title in 1993 I went off the beaten track to train and compete in Cuba, which was a tough experience I have never forgotten," she said. "After losing my world title last year I really felt I needed something strong to get me back on course."

Today sees the stalwart figures of Ray Stevens and Kate Howey in action. Both have developed a habit of coming second: they have won European silver medals and Stevens was an Olympic silver medallist in Barcelona while Howey came second in the World Championships in 1993. At 32, time is running out for Stevens but, as a superb technician, he has a longer competitive life than most. Howey, who is only 23, matured early but knows that, injury permitting, this year could be the best chance for making her mark at the highest level.

GREAT BRITAIN: MEN Bantamweight (under 60kilos) N Donohu; Featherweight (U-65kg) J Davies; Lightweight (U-71kg) D Kingston; Light-middleweight (U-78kg) G Randall; Middleweight (U-86kg) R Birch; Light-heavy (U-95kg) R Stevens; No heavyweight. WOMEN Bantam (U-48kg) J Heron; Feather (U-52kg) S Rendle; Light (U-56kg) N Fairbrother; Lightmiddle (U-61kg) D Bell; Middle (U-66kg) R Sweatman; Light-heavy (U-72kg) K Howey; Heavy (over 72kg) M Rodgers. Open J Horton.