London 2012: Women's judo silver medalist Gemma Gibbons will have to learn to deal with being a household name


After her sensational silver medal in the women's judo yesterday evening, Gemma Gibbons has a fresh challenge on her hands: Learning how to deal with with the new found fame that comes with becoming a household name overnight.

The Greenwich-born 25-year-old – the only medal winner so far to come from an Olympic borough – is one of the first British athletes of London 2012 to have been thrust from relative obscurity into the international limelight following an against the odds victory. Fans have begun to recognise her backstage, sponsors are clamouring to get near her.

“It hasn't sunk in at all, it's just crazy,” she told The Independent as she finished watching fellow British judoka Karina Bryant fight her way to today's semi finals. “I don't think I’ve quite realised what this medal means – not just to me but to British judo and the fans.”

In many ways her life will never be the same again. In the space of just twelve hours her Twitter followers rose from 660 to more than 23,000 and counting. She's barely had time to catch up with her family. Instead she has found herself chaperoned from studio to interview as the world clamours to hear from Britain's latest surprise sporting star.

“After the competition my family and friends all went to Team GB house and I was whisked off to all the TV studios and stuff,” she recalls of the night she won. “When I came back they'd literally been waiting around for five hours and I think I ended up having about five minutes with them. It was nice to have them all there but I haven't had a proper catch up with them. Maybe in the next couple of days when things have died down I'll ten have the chance to meet up with a some friends and family.”

She finally crawled into bed at 1am but still couldn't sleep.

Gibbons left spectators in tears on Thursday night when she looked skywards after knowing she had secured a medal and mouthed “Thank you mum”. Her mother Jeanette was the one who first got her daughter into judo when she was six years old but died of leukaemia eight years ago.

“She did everything she could to help me in everything in life and especially my judo career,” Gibbons explained, clutching her silver medal in her right hand. “It was my little way of saying thank you because I don't get that opportunity.”

Her victory is something both friends and neighbours are rightly proud of. Ellen Faulkner, 29, who lives directly underneath Gibbons' Charlton flat with her two sons, said she watched, hand on mouth in shock, as Gibbons was on the BBC.

“Oh my God, that’s our Gemma, from upstairs!” she recalled thinking. “I can’t believe it. I take my hat off to her because she really struggled after her mum died. She was only 17, but she picked herself up. She never had much money, but she worked hard and was always going off to train, train, train, and now it’s paid off.”

The one person who has been able to congratulate her in person at the athletes village is her boyfriend and fellow judoka star Euan Burton who delivered a heart-rending apology after he was knocked out earlier this week. Burton was particularly hard on himself, saying he felt like he'd let “everyone down”.

“He was just so disappointed, just gutted,” explains his girlfriend, who has no doubts he will be back to win medals for Team GB. “He's medalled at numerous World and European [competitions] before so he's definitely of the level and could have done it. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. But he's over the moon for me.”

Gibbons herself is now planning to move in with Burton and settle in Edinburgh where she will study a PGCE in physical education while continuing to train for future events.

“I've just got to carry on with the training, try to progress more and deliver more performances like I did yesterday,” she says. As so many of the successful Beijing generation of athletes have learned, the weight of the public's expectations will now be on her shoulders like never before. Will she end up representing Britain at Rio in four years time? “That's the next goal,” she says with a smile.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas