Gemma Gibbons wins Team GB's first Olympic judo medal in 12 years


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The Independent Online

Team GB judoka Gemma Gibbons said she had felt ready for "something special" as she grappled her way to Olympic silver.

The 25-year-old paid tribute to her late mother on her way to the final of the women's under-78kgs at ExCeL Arena, London.

She lost to the United States' Kayla Harrison but her medal win - Britain's first in judo since 2000 - was seen as a remarkable achievement.

She beat world champion Audrey Tcheumeo in the semi-final with a spectacular ippon throw which had the home crowd on its feet.

It was her mother, Jeanette, who introduced her to the sport when she was six.

Her mother died in 2004 from leukaemia, but has continued to serve as an inspiration to the athlete, born in Charlton, London.

Speaking after her podium appearance, Gibbons, who spent six months out of the sport after surgery on her shoulder, said: "It does not quite feel real at the moment."

She added: "It has been difficult to get here, but it is not easy for any athlete.

"When you are training as hard as you can but not getting results in competitions, you do think, what do I have to do?

"Deep within, though, I always knew I could do something special, and that is what drives you on."

As she won her quarter-final earlier today, Gibbons said: "I love you mum."

And she wept with joy and mouthed the word "mum" as she went through to the final.

Now based in Greenwich, a short hop across the Thames from the Olympic Park, Gibbons is one of the Games's truly local heroes.

Friends and family were part of a huge crowd of British fans who created a thunderous atmosphere inside the ExCel Arena where they chanted her name, clapped and stamped throughout her winning run.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian president Vladimir Putin, himself a black belt in the martial art, were in the crowd to watch.

Her boyfriend, Euan Burton, 33, a judo athlete who was defeated in the second round of the men's 81kg competition, said he was proud.

He took to Twitter as Gibbons reached the final, writing: "Gemma Gibbons is in the Olympic final!"

"I'm the proudest man in the world right now. Can't stop smiling. C'mon Gem!"

She returned the tribute, writing after his defeat: "Absolutely gutted for my man Euan-Burton so proud of him though, he is everything a great man should be!"

Gibbons had always been regarded as a genuine medal hope but had only recently recovered from a shoulder injury and stepped up a weight division this year.

Speaking before today, Gibbons told fans: "I am buzzing for these Olympic Games."

The former Westwood College (now Harris Academy Falconwood) student, took up judo as a child at the Metro Judo Club in Blackheath, London.

She had also trained at the British Judo Performance Institute, and UEL Sports at the University of East London.

Elizabeth Egan, high performance sports manager at the university, said: "Both the staff and students at the University of East London are absolutely thrilled that Gemma has won the silver medal.

"Her inclusion in the final was far more than we ever expected, so today marks a fantastic day for British judo."

Speaking outside the arena, judo fan Romi Nella, from south London, described Gibbons' success as "outstanding".

He said: "She was never ranked to win gold so to come away with silver is incredible.

"The hairs on the back of my arms were standing on end, it was so exciting.

"For me to see a local girl do so well is fantastic."

Tommy Hinchcliffe, from Diss, Norfolk, was attending his first judo event.

He said: "I couldn't believe how exciting it was and Gemma's success was obviously very emotional for her."