Judo: Youth leaves experience on the mat: Rendle returns from Buckingham palace to suffer an unexpected defeat. Rob Steen reports

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'JUDO is a very fragile plant,' Geof Gleeson asserted in his book, All About Judo, 'it has had something of a hypochondriacal existence.' Whether this explains why more than 40 senior competitors withdrew from this year's British Closed Championships complaining of flu is open to conjecture. As an acknowledgement of the march of youth, the succession of sick notes may well have been more than mere coincidence.

The sport's mandarins have long lamented the disinterest of television, so Olympic success is deemed a desirable, not to say persuasive selling point. To that end the omens for Atlanta appear to be good. The emphasis, according to Neil Adams, the England team manager, himself a former Olympic medallist and veteran of four Olympiads, is firmly on youth. The fact that so many of last year's junior champions bridged the gap to senior superiority was patently refreshing.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the women's 52- kilo division. Last Friday, Sharon Rendle received her MBE at Buckingham Palace. Less than 24 hours later the world and Olympic bronze medallist returned to terra firma with a cruel thud, beaten by Debbie Allan, a comparative babe-in-arms who took part in this year's European juniors.

The most hotly disputed event was the men's 71K class, an entry of 23 producing two finalists from the same club, Danny Kingston and Ian Freeman, the former prevailing to nose ahead in an intense rivalry. 'Danny could be judged as, um, arrogant,'

Adams whispered, clearly seeking the most diplomatic means of expression, 'but maybe that's what we need.'

Ever the perfectionist, Adams did find something to quibble about. 'I'd like to see more technique - it's dipped a little since my day. Like a lot of team managers, it's nice to see your side score a crisp goal, to win in style.'

Style or no style, you still wouldn't kick sand in their faces.

BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIPS (Crystal Palace) Winners: Men: Under-60kg: J Johnson (Midlands); Under-65kg: S Moss (Midlands); Under-71kg: D Kingston (Northern Home Counties); Under-78kg: W Cusack (Scotland); Under-86kg: F Davis (Midlands); Under-95kg: L Alexander (London); Over-95kg: W Ethrington (North West).

Women: Under-48kg: J Heran (Scotland); Under-52kg: D Allan (South); Under- 56kg: C Peel (Northern Home Counties); Under-61kg: K Weir (Scotland); Under- 66kg: C Cowen (North); Under-72kg: K Howey (South); Over-72kg: M Rogers (North West).

(Photograph omitted)