Stevens aims to atone

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The Independent Online
Despite a distinguished history of European medals from fighters such as Neil Adams and Karen Briggs - both with no fewer than five titles to their credit - it has been more than two decades since Britain has hosted the European Championships, writes Philip Nicksan.

So this year's event, which opens at the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, today, promises to be a major boost to British judo, especially as it comes when there are a number of very real medal prospects.

The championships open with two days of preliminaries, the heavier weight categories today and the lighter weights tomorrow. There will then be two days of bronze medal fights and finals.

This means that the competition starts with one of Britain's best chances for a gold medal - the Olympic silver medallist Ray Stevens. One small mistake in the final at the European event in Gdansk last year cost him the gold medal. This year, with a good win in the British Open last month, he hopes it will be different.

"I am 31 now and I am calmer than I used to be," Stevens said. "By getting to the European final last year I proved that the Olympic silver was not a flash in the pan."

Stevens will not have an easy run. Pawel Nastula, who beat him last year, will be back, as well as Antal Kowacs, the Hungarian Olympic champion and the huge Frenchman, Stephane Traineau.

Other likely medal prospects from the British team tomorrow are Kate Howey, the 21-year-old light-heavyweight from Andover and the two British title winners from last year - the middleweight Rowena Sweatman and the light-middleweight Ryan Birch - who will also be on the mat today.

Tomorrow sees Nicola Fairbrother, the world lightweight champion, attempt to retrieve the European title which she won in 1992 and 1993, but lost last year in Poland; and the promising teenager Debbie Allan, the 19-year- old featherweight from Camberley who did well to win a bronze last year.