OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Judo: Fairbrother surges to silver

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BEFORE Nicola Fairbrother, a 22- year-old sports journalist, came to Spain, she said she wanted the chance to make headlines rather than bylines for a change - and by winning a silver medal in the lightweight category of the judo event, she has done exactly that.

She proved she had the potential to reach the top level of her sport when she won the European Championships in Paris in May and last night, just one moment of hesitation in the final against Spain's Miriam Blasco cost her a gold medal.

Fairbrother had the hardest possible task in the final - up against the current world champion, fighting on her home territory and commanding almost total support from the packed Palau Blaugrana with its 6,500 audience.

Fairbrother, blonde and only 56 kilos (8st 9lb), cut a small and lonely figure amidst all the cheering for her opponent, but she went into the final with her customary courage having already beaten three difficult opponents on the way.

Fairbrother got in the first attack, a drop shoulder throw, but Blasco, a strong 28-year-old, took commanding grips and went into the fray with determination. Fairbrother went on to the defensive and, at the halfway stage, was caught on the red area.

Suddenly worried about a possible penalty, she hesitated for a fraction of a second, turned and Blasco scythed her down with a counter, scoring five points. And even though Fairbrother poured everything into the last minute, and even scored a koka (three points) with her sumi-gaeshi (corner throw), she couldn't level the score. Even a strangle failed.

But Fairbrother had fought hard and well to get Britain's third judo medal of the Games adding to the silver won by Ray Stevens and the bronze by Kate Howey.

In her first match she faced Barbara Eck, of Austria, who had won a preliminary round easily. Fairbrother, however, had her measure, and produced the only score of the match, a double leg grab - morote-gari in Japanese, but, in truth, a rugby technique. It forced Eck to sit on her bottom and concede three points - which was enough to take Fairbrother through to the next round.

There, she met her European semi-final opponent, Cathy Arnaud of France, who has twice won the world title. Throwing caution to the wind, Fairbrother took the risk of launching a major throwing attempt right at the start - and the gamble paid off. Over went Arnaud for waza-ari (seven points), the victim of sumi-gaeshi (corner throw), Fairbrother's favourite technique.

The French lightweight began a furious series of attacks and Fairbrother began to incur penalties for passivity. First came a koka (three points) and then a yuko (five points). A footsweep followed for another three points, and the protegee of the Pinewood Judo Club looked in danger of losing the match - until she suddenly threw Arnaud for another seven-point score with ouchi-gari (major inner reap).

The semi-final, a replay of the European final in May, with Nicole Flagothier (Belgium) ended with another British victory, again from Fairbrother's sumi-gaeshi for five points.

It brought her a place in the final and a guaranteed silver medal - which, sadly, she was unable to convert to gold.

The men's lightweight category was won by Toshihiko Koga, of Japan, who beat Hungary's Bertalan Hajtos on a decision.