Edition No. 29. Winter, 2001.
The Seville Grand Prix
Seville, Spain
24 November 2001

By: Nicola Fairbrother
The 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 sense.

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 fighter.

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 final.

I 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 turn out.

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). And Kate.

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 Championships.

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 say more).

Oh yes, it looks like this spectating lark is getting better all the time...


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