OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Stevens' run has surprise silver lining: Judo

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The Independent Online
RAY Stevens, the 28-year-old London light-heavyweight who was nearly left out of Britain's judo team for the Olympics six weeks ago, confounded his critics by winning a silver medal here last night.

He beat four opponents on his way to the final, using his skilful ground work and throwing techniques and, at the semi-final stage, claimed the scalp of none other than Pawel Nastula, Poland's world silver medallist.

In the final, though, the tall 20-year-old Hungarian Antal Kovacs was able to defend for the first half of the contest and then twice unleash his winning inner thigh throw to take judo's top prize.

The final began in Stevens's favour. Using the armlock roll he had learned from Neil Adams at London's The Budokwai, he jumped on Kovacs's back and tried to prise the arm straight. Kovacs was turned on to his back, but before Stevens could straighten the arm, the Hungarian used his long legs to roll out of trouble.

Once Stevens had got to his feet, he turned to his throwing techniques. He tried tipping Kovacs backwards and forwards, maintaining the initiative. But just after the halfway mark, Kovacs began to dominate and spun into an uchimata (inner thigh throw) which lifted Stevens off his feet conceding yuko (five points).

A minute later, Kovacs repeated the technique with the same result and, although he was penalised for defensive actions, caught Stevens for a knock-down score at the end to take the gold.

Stevens had done well to reach the final. At the quarter-final stage, he had to overcome Nastula, who on form should have progressed. However, he reckoned without Stevens's skill. First, Nastula caught Stevens's leg, tipped him backwards and went into a three-point lead.

Stevens, cannily, then caught the Pole with the very same technique - except for five points and he continued to control the fight, so much so that Nastula was further penalised for using delaying tactics.

Just seconds from the end, Nastula gave Stevens a shock with a drop shoulder throw, levelling the scores. However, the Briton was so far ahead on attacks that he was given the unanimous decision for his fourth win of the day.

He had started by throwing Estonia's Indrek Pertelson in seven seconds, caught the Romanian Radu Ivan with the move of a master, and took Cuba's Beliarmo Salgado right off his feet. So, though Stevens will be disappointed not to claim Britain's first gold, the silver represented a personal triumph.

The road to the final had been pitted with difficulties. His career has been dogged with injury - at 78 kilograms when a domestic opponent for Neil Adams, and then at 86k when he was Densign White's main rival.

Two years ago, he took a gamble and went up to 95k. He won the Commonwealth title in Auckland, but then suffered a severe knee injury which kept him out of action for 18 months. He recovered, but had to justify his selection for Barcelona by winning a domestic competition,

Meanwhile, the women's team also produced a good result - a fifth place from the light-heavyweight Josie Horton. She was also a late addition to the team, but justified the faith placed in her.

She took a decision from the American Sandra Bacher, held Brazil's Soraia Andre (Brazil), and beat the German Regina Schuttenhelm with a last minute throw. But she could not combat the strength of Mi-Jung Kim, Korea's world champion who went on to win the title, and was finally beaten by France's Laetitia Meignan in a fight for the bronze.