Edition No. 24. Autumn, 2000. Today is
European Judo Championships 2000

By: Barnaby Chesterman

At the end of a gruelling contest the buzzer sounded; Karina Bryant wheeled around to the photographers and punched the air; she was European champion again. Bryant's gold topped off an outstanding championship for the women's team who plundered another three silvers to finish second behind the French women. But for the odd contentious referee's decision they could even have swaggered home with four golds.

From the old dome stadium, once used by Adolf Hitler to address his followers, to human Olympic rings, the Poles staged an attractive Championship. Children in coloured judogi (the rings), aided by champions of the past, treated the spectators to some eager demonstrations in the Opening Ceremony. There was even a decent crowd, that at times created quite a racket. And to top it off, once again, believe it or not, I copped a tongue-lashing. It was a great tournament.

From the outset, Britain's women were on fire and on Thursday three out of four qualified for the semi-finals. Bryant sliced through her half of the draw in the +78kg like a hot knife through butter. The Polish fighter, Maigor Gornicka had the audacity to take the lead, scoring koka with maki-komi. But Bryant bided her time before emphatically silencing the crowd with a big o-goshi for ippon. Next up was a Yugoslav, Mara Kovacevic, but she was no match for the Camberley Crusher and was disposed of with kouchi-gari from an uchi-mata twitch.

Bryant looked dominant and it was clear that it would take something special to beat her. In the semi-final, Tzwetana Bojilova of Bulgaria just didn't have it. She was dumped for waza-ari with tani-otoshi and no sooner had she got up, she went over again with ouchi-gari. Bryant was now within touching distance of her second title in three years. Having bulldozed her way there she had to display cunning and refinement to clinch her place on the top tier of the rostrum. Irina Rodina of Russia, the reigning champion, was a robust opponent with some willing drop seoi-nage attacks but she doesn't have Bryant's class. It was settled eventually by a penalty, the decisive moment coming at a time when Bryant harried the Russian into excessive passivity. She was delighted at the end and said "it feels really good" before something distracted her and abruptly terminated my attempts at an interview.

Chloe Cowen faced the most exciting drama in the -78kg as she was not only chasing a title but also Olympic qualification. It was a small field of just 13 women but that is not to suggest it was easy because they were the best 13. Eight had already qualified for the Olympics and the other five were the only ones still in with a chance of claiming the last place. Cowen completed an Iberian double in ne-waza in her first two fights. She pinned Esther San Miguel of Spain with kami-shiho-gatame and then rolled Sandra Godinho of Portugal into sangaku-gatame. Cowen's ne-waza is really strong and few fighters can compete with her on the ground. Personally I would never risk rolling around the mat with Cowen...but then again...

By the semi-final stage there was only one fighter left who could still deprive Cowen of that coveted place at the Olympics, Anastasia Matrosova of Ukraine. In a winner takes all contest she faced the Ukrainian in the semi-final. Matrosova had scored a surprise victory against Simona Richter of Romania and was looking very powerful. Cowen mastered her, though, and scored waza-ari with kochike-taioshi to finally clinch her ticket to Sydney after four agonising months in an unsecured qualifying position. In the final she met Celine Lebrun of France, the reigning champion and only European medallist at the World Championships. Lebrun started slightly better and when Cowen missed with a foot sweep she was pushed backwards for waza-ari, although that score may have been a little generous. Cowen fought back and scored waza-ari herself with tani-otoshi to take the contest to a decision. It had been close but she lost unanimously and it was disappointment once again with her third silver to add to another two bronze medals at Europeans but still no gold. Afterwards she admitted to having "mixed" emotions. "Obviously I'm disappointed," she said, "I felt my throw was an ippon. But I'm over the moon about the Olympics. I've worked so hard and there was a lot of pressure."

If she has been waiting a long time to add a gold to her European collection, Kate Howey has been waiting even longer. Prior to these championships she had two silver and five bronze medals. Through the -70kg qualifiers she looked unstoppable. Catarina Rodrigues was armlocked with juji-gatame, although in truth the Portuguese put it on a plate after attempting tomoe-nage and then leaving an arm straight up in the air with Howey standing over her. It took the Briton a split second to recognise the gift but when she did she almost snapped it off. After smashing Tetyana Brouletova of Ukraine with her trademark morote-gari, Howey couldn't wait for the semi-finals.

She had a tough draw against Ylenia Scapin of Italy and for a couple of minutes they were deadlocked. Then Howey pulled a brilliant uchi-mata out the bag and qualified for her first European final since 1991 in Prague. She had looked the class act in the field and, with Ursula Martin of Spain surprisingly, and somewhat fortunately, squeezing past Ulla Werbrouck of Belgium, she appeared all set to end her European drought. It was not to be, though. Howey dominated and scored yuko with tomoe-nage but was thrown for ippon with osoto-gari. Television replays suggested it should have been no more than a waza-ari as she landed on only one shoulder, but the referee does not have the benefit of a replay.

Howey was distraught having once again suffered heartache. She said: "Maybe it's just not meant to be." Well let me assure you all, Howey is too ruthless and talented for it not to be. In both the semi-final and final she picked up her opponents with morote-gari just after the referee called matte. On both occasions they came crashing down to the mat, flat on their backs, before Howey stood up looking slightly bemused at the lack of an ippon score. One day this will to win will land the top medal in Europe, and hopefully the Olympics.

With those three medals secured, Britain were tucked away just behind Russia in the overall medals table at the end of the first day of finals. On the next day Georgina Singleton added one more in the -52kg. First up was the Belgian, Inge Clement, and Singleton spun her on a mid-air-sixpence to counter a seoi-nage attack with a whipping te-guruma for ippon. She then took on Miren Leon of Spain and, with 30 seconds to go, led by yuko from osoto-gaeshi. Leon then seemed to lose her head as the contest appeared to get stuck on repeat. Four times she charged at Singleton only to be thrown with left seoi-nage on each occasion. Three of those earned small scores but still the Spaniard didn't catch on. In fact the end buzzer came as a bit of a relief for the beleaguered Leon.

Singleton enjoyed a barnstorming semi-final against Deborah Gravenstein of the Netherlands. The pair went at each other with hammer and tong but incredibly neither managed to score. Towards the end they mustered up every last energy reserve to keep going but somehow a combination of twists, blocks and flops kept it scoreless. The decision could have gone either way but Singleton nicked it 2-1. It was a classic fight and a great moment for someone who is supposedly just a reserve and was only fighting because of an injury to Debbie Allan. In the final she met Laetitia Tignola of France who was taking full advantage of her selection over the Olympic champion, Marie-Claire Restoux.

For the most part the final was a stale-mate and both picked up two penalties for passivity. It was decided 20 seconds from the end with a shocking piece of inconsistent refereeing. Neither had been attacking but had exchange pointless kicks for a while when the referee called matte. It seemed that both would rightly pick up keikoku but inexcusably only Singleton was penalised. There was little time left to get the score back and if ever there was a case of 'I was robbed, guv', this was it. A decision could have gone either way so there is no guarantee the result would have been different, but to lose like that is disheartening. Singleton was a little tricky to interview afterwards, but after berating me for "slating" her in the European Teams report last year, she agreed to speak. Not before her coach Don Warner had weighed in as well, criticising me grammar. I don't know what he were talking about. Anyway, eventually Singleton said: "I'm pretty gutted because I felt we should both have had keikoku. But I'm pleased with the people I beat because it proves I am one of the best fighters in Europe."

That was the end of the British medals and it was good enough to finish sixth in the overall medals table but there were also three fifth places to cheer. Jenny Brien, in her first Europeans, threw Sabrina Filzmoser of Austria for ippon with ouchi-gari before being pinned with yoko-shiho-gatame by the experienced former champion, Jessica Gal of the Netherlands. Brien threw Ieva Klimasauskiene of Lithuania for ippon in the repechage and then won a split points decision against Cinzia Cavazutti of Italy to fight for -57kg bronze. She narrowly lost by yuko and koka to Michaela Vernerova of the Czech Republic who was also a bronze medallist from the Worlds, but it was still an excellent performance.

Simone Callender lost to the reigning champion, Katja Gerber of Germany on penalties in the Open. She bounced back, though, and threw Virginie Jaulin of France for ippon. She then won a split points decision against Gornicka to the dismay of the home crowd. She could not quite make it onto the podium, though, as Bojilova threw her for ippon with an ouchi-gari counter to her kosoto-gari attack. It was nonetheless a positive result for Callender who will soon be climbing the rostrum in a senior championship.

Once again John Buchanan narrowly missed out on a medal in the -60kg but created much excitement along the way. He beat Albert Techovas of Lithuania with two yukos and then strangled the dangerous Moldavian, Georgi Kurdghelashvili. He then came up against Eric Despezelle of France and in a couple of mad seconds was twice thrown for yuko with te-guruma. Matte should probably have been called after the first one, but Buchanan sprung up too quickly and was caught again.

It is in the repechage where the Scot really loves to excite and he beat the double reigning champion, Oscar Penas of Spain, with two yukos from kata-guruma. That same technique then put paid to David Moret of Switzerland for waza-ari before a bronze fight against Cederic Taymans of Belgium. Buchanan started more positively but was thrown for yuko and then ippon so he could only add fifth at the Europeans to his same placing at the Worlds. Even so he is great to watch and I am sure, as are several of his team-mates (one described him as the best fighter in Britain), that he will win a medal soon.

As for the rest it just was not quite happening for the men. David Somerville narrowly lost to Islam Matsiev by yuko and it looked likely that he would get another chance in the repechage as Matsiev was the favourite. Surprisingly the Russian lost to Victor Bivol of Moldova so Somerville unfortunately missed out. Winston Gordon dislocated his finger in losing to Fernando Gonzalez in the -90kg. Keith Davis lost to Pedro Soares of Portugal in the -100kg and then lost to Luigi Guido of Italy in the repechage. Luke Preston, deputising for Graeme Randall, did well in the -81kg. He threw Marcello Novais of Sweden for ippon in just 19 seconds with a brilliant sode-tsurikomi-goshi. He then lost by yuko to the eventual winner, Sergei Aschwanden of Switzerland, and was also edged out in the repechage by Matti Lattu of Finland.

Lee Burbridge was undone by controversy in the -73kg. He threw Varuzhan Israyalyan of Armenia for waza-ari with ura-nage and then again with morote-gari. He looked on fire and threw Miguel Almeida of Portugal for waza-ari with tani-otoshi before another waza-ari was awarded and then changed to an ippon. Burbridge had done the throw but Almeida turned him over as he landed. The referee awarded the fight to Burbridge but the other judges overruled him and it went to the Portuguese. Such is the fine line between success and failure in judo, Almeida went on to win gold and Burbridge, who would have qualified for the Olympics with a medal, lost his second repechage fight against Olivier Schmutz of Switzerland.

A couple of women also had miserable tournaments. Vickie Dunn was thrown for ippon with a lovely sode-tsurikomi-goshi by Laura Moise of Romania, who went on to win the -48kg. Dunn was then thrown for ippon by Tatiana Moskvina of Belarus in the repechage. Karen Roberts beat Andrea Cavalleri of Portugal in the -63kg but was then pinned by the ne-waza master, Gella Vandecaveye of Belgium. Vandecaveye went on to win her 6th European title and also received the first ever joint-European player of the year award, with Isabel Fernandez of Spain. The men's award went to Larbi Benboudaoud of France.

Roberts had a chance in the repechage, but, after having a waza-ari overruled for nothing, was thrown for ippon by Regina Mikute of Lithuania. Roberts admitted she needed to get back to scrapping afterwards, since that was what won her a World Championship bronze medal. Both her and Dunn will be at the Olympics so they can try to redeem themselves there. In fact the whole women's team have qualified for the Olympics but disappointingly just Buchanan, Somerville and Randall have from the men. Billy Cussack was then at pains to ask me what I was going to write about the Scottish men's Olympic team. Well Billy, if they win in Sydney, they will be British sporting icons. But if they lose, they will be a bunch of kilted pansies.


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European Championships 2000










RUANO Aythami (ESP)




TIGNOLA Laetitia (FRA)

HAREL Barbara (FRA)




Karina Bryant (GBR)


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