OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Judo: Painful end for brave Briggs

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The Independent Online
THE INCLUSION of women's judo on the main Olympic programme came too late for one of Britain's most successful competitors. Karen Briggs, four times world champion, six times European champion, went to Barcelona in the hope of gold but came away empty-handed, beaten by a body that has been strained to its limits, and the remarkable talent of the 16-year-old Japanese, Ryoko Tamura.

She had beaten Tamura in their last meeting, at the world championships in the Palau Blaugrana a year ago, but this time the diminutive Japanese had her measure. When they met at the semi-final stage, it was Tamura, all youth and bounce and confidence, who was to take command, helped by a shoulder injury incurred by Briggs after the first minute.

It was a sad end not only to Briggs' Olympic hopes, but also to the aspirations of the British women's team, which came here highly optimistic of providing the judo gold medal Britain has been so close to for so long. And it probably means the end to her competition career. 'I think I may finish, but I want to have some time to think about it first,' she said.

It must be said that luck has not favoured Briggs. Her draw was hard, far harder than the one fortune dealt to the eventual winner, the world champion Cecile Nowak of France, who beat Tamura on a koka (three points) from a double leg grab.

Briggs had to fight every inch of the way to get to the semi-final meeting against Tamura. She began the day against the tough Brigitte Lastrade of Canada, a physical encounter that is hard on a 29-year- old. Briggs threw her with a three- point counter, then knocked her backwards with ouchi-gari (major inner reap) for another koka.

Having twice taken Lastrade backwards, Briggs changed tactics and threw her forward, scoring yuko (five points) with a left seoi- nage, a throw she uses against taller opponents. Finally, she added a further koka from another counter.

Mongolia's Khishigbat Erdenet Od was an awkward right-hander but Briggs had the perfect answer. She ducked in for tomoe-nage, but the Mongolian rode it and ducked in again, with the same result. A few exchanges later, she got the range right, and Erdenet Od sailed over the top for waza-ari (seven points). It was the main score of the match, though Briggs added a koka from a hold.

Her last match was a despairing one to watch. Having had her shoulder put back into place, strapped up, and received a painkilling injection, she went back into battle for a bronze against Hulya Senyurt of Turkey a shadow of her customary self. Senyurt whipped her over all too easily with uchimata (inner thigh throw) for waza-ari - something that has hardly ever happened to Briggs in over a decade of top international competition.

Briggs struggled on, hoping against hope. There was a hint of the famous tomoe-nage, but the fire had gone out. She left the mat with a dignity that prompted spontaneous applause from the packed audience at Palau Blaugrana, sensing that they were watching the end of an era.

Decision drama, page 26