Judo: Sudden death for bantams

AS THE leading lights in British judo gather in Birmingham for the British Open Championships this weekend it seems that at last the sport is emerging from a confused decade.

Despite occasional successes in international competition, there was no hiding the lack of central direction amidst falling membership of the British Judo Association and poor results.

Under the chairmanship of Lesley-Anne Alexander - the first woman to hold the post (and still the only national woman chairman in world) - the BJA has regrouped and now presents a more creditable front.

The imaginative, though risky appointment of Udo Quellmalz, the German Olympic featherweight champion, in overall charge of the national squads, appears to be paying off, with regular medals in A internationals since January and from a wide range of competitors. With quiet assurance and professionalism he has won the respect of the players and the administration.

He is helped by financial security. Alexander's bid for proper funding for a sport where Britain has traditionally been strong has been met positively by the Sports Councils and the Lottery Sports Funds. A total of pounds 1.4m has been agreed for this year for the national squads and similar sums for the next six years seem likely, allowing steady planning not just for the Sydney Olympics, but also Athens.

This weekend most of the leading fighters are competing. World heavyweight junior champion Karina Bryant and former world lightweight champion Nicola Fairbrother compete today in what is a warm-up for the European Championships - both are pre-selected. For the three leading bantamweights in the men's division, John Buchanan, Sam Dunkley and Jamie Johnson, there is everything to fight for as only one will be going.

Lightweight Danny Kingston will compete at 81kilos, rather than his normal 73kg tomorrow, to save the main dieting effort for the Europeans; and there could be the long-awaited match between featherweights Georgina Singleton and Debbie Allan if the latter's Achilles tendon heals in time.