Olympic Games / Olympic Countdown - Judo:Briggs leads medal quest

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The Independent Online
OLYMPIC JUDO takes on a new character in Barcelona as, for the first time, the women's event is held with the men's. Though the Olympic movement is desperately trying to reduce numbers of participants, the claim for equal rights in judo was too strong to resist.

This should have the effect of underlining the power of European judo. Women's competitive judo was developed by Western nations before Japan and Korea; France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and, of course, Britain, stand to benefit from the change.

Olympic judo results have always been notoriously unpredictable, but if the 1991 World Championship is anything to go by, the British women's team, coached by Roy Inman, stands to do well.

Most of the seven members of the team are real medal prospects. In particular, Karen Briggs (bantamweight), Sharon Rendle (featherweight), Nicola Fairbrother (who earlier this year won the European lightweight title), Diane Bell (light-middleweight) and Kate Howey (middleweight) will all be disappointed if they return home empty-handed.

The men's event is a rather different matter. The British team have not found replacements for performers such as Neil Adams. They have also been unlucky with injuries: the bantamweight, Nigel Donohue, has recently been in hospital for water on the knee;

Densign White injured his shoulder training in Japan; and the light-heavyweight, Ray Stevens, has also been troubled with knee ligament problems. The best medal prospects are for the oldest member of the team, the charismatic Elvis Gordon, and the youngest: the 18-year-old featherweight, Ian Freeman.

As always, the spotlight will fall upon the Japanese team. The Seoul Olympics proved an unmitigated disaster for Japan, with only one gold medal on the last day saving it from complete loss of face. The home country of judo normally expects at least four gold medals from the seven men's weight categories.

However, the last four years have seen some changes in training patterns, with new, young coaches like the former Olympic champion, Yasuhiro Yamashita, incorporating modern sports ideas into preparation schedules.

Once again, the Japanese team is looking optimistically towards four gold medals, from Tadanori Koshino (bantamweight), Toshihiko Koga (lightweight), Hirotaka Okada (middleweight) and Naoya Ogawa (heavyweight).

BRITISH TEAM: MEN: Bantamweight (u60k): N Donohue. Featherweight (u65k): I Freeman. Lightweight (u71k): B Cusack. Light-middleweight (u78k): R Birch. Middleweight (u86k): D White. Light-heavyweight (u95k): R Stevens. Heavyweight (o95k): E Gordon. WOMEN: Bantamweight (u48k): K Briggs. Featherweight (u52k): S Rendle. Lightweight (u56k): N Fairbrother. Light-middleweight (61k): D Bell. Middleweight (u66k): K Howey. Light-heavyweight (u72k): J Horton. Heavyweight (o72k): S Lee.

(Photograph omitted)