Judo: Brits can't get to grips

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The Independent Online

Karen Bryant, the last of British judo’s not-so-magnificent seven has crashed out in her opening bout to Mexican Vanessa Zambotti, an opponent she normally would expect to have overthrown, a defeat that was sadly indicative of the way all of the British team have underachieved here. Seventh was their highest individual placing.

There will now almost certainly be a review of the sport’s future financing by funding distributors UK Sport. Since Athens, when Britain also came away empty-handed, there have been administrative shake-ups by the British Judo Association and a virtually clean sweep of coaching staff.

Two women, Margaret Hicks and Karen Roberts were put in charge of performance following the departure of the chief executive and German national coach. While Craig Fallon did win a world championship in 2005, and there have been some medal successes at European level, the Olympic return from Britain’s four men and three women has again been disastrous. Team manager Roberts, herself a former world championship bronze medallist, admitted she felt “gutted” by the overall result but added: “They all gave us 100 per cent in their preparation and the support team has been completely committed. But it is not just the disappointment of the event here but the years of work that have one into this which does not reflect the ability of the team.

”I hope our funding is not affected. Margaret Hicks (the new performance director) and I came in only a year ago very much with 2012 in mind and UK Sport has always been right behind us. They know we are looking forward to 2102 and that we need to make more changes. What we have to do now is create more depth in our system and this is not something we can do overnight.”

Britain has never won Olympic gold but there have been 16 medals overall, the last of which was Kate Howey’s silver in Sydney eight years ago.

Bryant, competing in her third Olympics, lost by two yukos and a koka to a koka, which basically is judo-speak for two falls to one. The early exit was a particularly bitter blow for the popular 29-year-old heavyweight. ”I’m very frustrated - more disappointed than anything, because I didn’t perform to my full potential,” she said. Zambotti made things very difficult, but I should have been on better form. I still feel pretty raw and I will be asking myself for a long time what went wrong.”

Perversely, she is a performer with some pedigree – a dozen medals at world and European level –and while she was not expected to win a gold there was every hope that the effort she had made over the past year to correct the disparity of her body weight by bench pressing up to 100kg a day and bulking up her diet would get some tangible reward. She is someone for whom the sport “consumes every waking hour.” “Apart from eating and sleeping judo is all I ever do."

In the past she has always seemed amazingly slim compared to many of her giant rivals and found it “mentally and physically” difficult to gain weight, often being outweighed by several stones.

“I used to look in the mirror and say’ that’s not what I want to be.’”

Now, like the rest the team, she will be taking another long hard look at herself as the funding body also re-examines its substantial commitment to a sport that hasn't got to grips with itself.