Seville Grand Prix
24 November 2001
By: Nicola Fairbrother
first ever Women's Grand Prix was held in November, in Seville, Spain.
I went down to watch, with expectations high. After all, the talk
about the men's event in Moscow had been pretty impressive - spotlights
following the fighters onto the mat, the Russian world class gymnastic
team entertaining in the break, the whole event costing 1 million
US dollars. Yes, 1 million.
Could this be at last, the event we all talk about? A judo event organised
for the spectator? A judo event that keeps judo exciting?
I hoped so. But there was another reason for my visit. Fighting at
-70kg was my former team mate and good friend, Kate Howey. Kate had
been the only Brit to qualify for the tournament which invited only
the world's top 8 fighters per divsion, although Karina Bryant had
come close being a first reserve. At least, I reasoned with Kate in
it, there would be some good judo to keep me entertained.
Held in an open marquee tent, that was used during the Seville Expo
in 1992, the arena looked the part, with its one central yellow and
green tatami surrounded with water! At first glance, I was surprised
to see that there weren't that many spectator seats. Radiating circularly
from the mat there were just about 10 rows of about 50 seats. However,
the place filled up and for most of the time the atmosphere buzzed
with excitement and noise.
I guess that answers any doubts about which is better: a small stadium
packed or a large stadium three quarters empty? After all, it makes
It's all about creating an atmosphere. Not about selling more tickets
(in Seville entrance to the event was free) And anyway, putting an
event into a large stadium doesn't give any guarantee that more people
are going to buy tickets does it?
Three television cameras (2 up in the stands and 1 mat side) kept
track on the action. Later, the event got good coverage with Canal
Plus selling the coverage to the Spanish TV channel TVE and to Eurosport
who both put out several repeated hour slots.
Now and then during the 6 hours, the atmosphere did die a little,
as a slow tactical fight came on and then went to the golden score.
But this was more about the long duration of the event than the quality
of the judo. Like someone said,"Imagine how many people would be interested
in a 6 hour football match"
Generally the judo was exciting and there was some cracking throws.
1996 Olympic Champion Cho (KOR) decided to return from retirement
for the event. No doubt the $6000 dollar prize having something to
do with that decision. If that was her reason, then she made a mistake.
In just 30 seconds the Olympic Champ was flying through the air on
the back of a classic Uchi-mata at the hands of the strong Ivory Coast
For me that was the throw of the tournament, but there were others
that came close. Like the Austrian Heill's incredible Tani-otoshi
that put Spain's Alvarez through the mat. Or Japan's Kitada's Seoi-nage
that won the $2000 bonus prize for the fastest throw in the - 48kg
had Kate down for that prize, with her speedy pick ups. But a torn
hamstring slowed our Olympic and World Silver medallist down a bit.
Slowed her down, maybe stopped a few of those 4 second Ippons she's
famous for, but didn't keep her from winning the event!
And added to that, she took the top prize in the event's toughest
weight division. Despite the fact the top 8 in the world were invited
to compete and reserves were contacted, most weight division only
had about 4 real top fighters. The other 4 were made up from good
International competitors or Spanish National team fighters. None
of the Cuban team were there either. This was a shame, but I'm sure
as the event picks up more prestige more of these top fighters will
At -70kg, however there was a full star line up. The list included:-
Cho (KOREA - 1996 Olympic Gold medallist, 2000 Olympic Bronze medallist);
Martin (SPAIN - 5th Olympic Games 2000); Blanco (SPAIN - 5th World
Champ's 2001); x (IVORY COAST - 7th World Champ's 2001); Scapin (ITALY).
On her way to picking up the $6000 dollars, Kate beat Martin. This
was a repeat of the Olympic semi-final, but Kate had little trouble
soon holding Martin down in Tate-shio-gatame. Next up was a win over
the Ivory Coast entrant who had taken 7th place at this year's World
In the final Kate was struggling from the hamstring injury but she
went a Yuko up thanks to an Uchi-mata and then managed to hold off
Blanco's storm of attacks to the delight of the 7 British people in
the arena and to the annoyance of 500 Spaniards.
The award ceremony was held directly after the final with Kate being
awarded a golden belt! There wasn't any rostrum, with the belt being
awarded on the mat. Another good point, I think - after all who stays
to watch the medal ceremony, really? Later, the cash prizes were handed
out at a Gala dinner ... Seville, I suppose not being the best place
in the world to wander about with 4 Grand in your back pocket.
All in all the event, in my opinion, was an excellent step forward
in the progression of Judo. And in particular in the presentation
of our sport.
Next year the IJF plans 3 more women's Grand Prix events. Each event
demands superb presentation with a large cash input, which can only
be good news for the sport, for the fighters and for the spectators.
And just in case you're still undecided on whether you'd like to go
and watch. Let me add, the events are planned to be held in Seville,
again. And also Dubai (good shopping, I've heard) and Rio (need I
Oh yes, it looks like this spectating lark is getting better all the