GMEX Arena, Manchester:
July 30 - August 1
By: Barnaby Chesterman
| The Commonwealth Games
judo tournament was always likely to be a major success story for the British. Twelve years
ago, in judo's only previous appearance at the 'Friendly Games', England dominated to such
an extent that its fighters won 14 out of the 16 available Gold medals.
With the open categories dropped, repeating that Gold medal haul was always going to be a
tall order, but even so, the English were favourites to stamp their authority on the event
- although not without an expected fierce challenge from the buoyant Scots. As it turned out,
most of Scotland's Gold medal aspirations faltered at the hands of their English rivals and
it was Canada and, somewhat surprisingly, Australia who most threatened to upset the apple
cart. But before we go into the success and failures, the cheers and the tears, the Commonwealth
Games Judo began with some unwanted publicity. If people within the sport were hoping to benefit
from increased exposure through success at the Games, they were in for a shock a month before
it even kicked off. The exposure was there but it was not quite what we had hoped for.
The drama all began when the English selectors
announced their team. Incredibly there was no room for former World Champion and twice Olympic
medallist Kate Howey or twice European Champion and twice World medallist Karina
Bryant. Howey's omission intrigued the nation's press the most and there began a rather messy
affair to overturn the selectors initial decision.
Without wishing to dwell on it too much,
Samantha Lowe was selected over Howey at under 70kg as she had fulfilled the selectors criteria.
Howey challenged the decision and it was overturned - Wynn Boulton resigned from her position
as English women's team manager over that decision. Lowe counter-appealed and a new selection
panel was appointed to make a final ruling. Just two days before the Games began, the new
selectors reinstated Lowe and that was the end of it - or so we thought.
How we needed some Gold medals
It did not give Lowe much time to prepare
for the Games and she would surely have preferred to put the whole escapade behind her and
concentrate solely on her judo. But just days before the judo competition began, Lowe was
again sprawled all over the press. She was quoted
as saying she didn't feel sorry for Howey and that they don't get on
Judo had once more
hit the headlines, but again for all the wrong reasons.
Oh the shenanigans.
How we needed some Gold medals to concentrate attention on sport rather than politics.
All eyes were on Lowe, and to a lesser extent Simone Callender, (selected over Bryant) they
had a lot to live up to. So let's begin with them. Lowe was definitely under the most pressure.
When she stepped out on to the mat on the second day of the judo tournament for her first
contest, there was an extra murmur of excitement about the crowd. They had cheered manically
for every English competitor, enthusiastically for every other Brit (particularly the Scots)
and politely for everyone else. But for Lowe, maybe fuelled by the added tension emanating
from the press box, they seemed even more frenzied.
It was the moment of truth and boy how
she responded. About 20 seconds had elapsed before Lowe picked up Northern Ireland's Claire
Rainey and smashed her into the mat with Teguruma for an impressive Ippon. The crowd erupted;
Lowe had announced her arrival; a confident start for a 20-year-old.
That put her straight into a semi-final
match-up against Amanda Costello, fighting for Scotland despite coming from Wycombe. Journalists
twitched nervously in the press box sensing something special. This really was the crucial
contest for Lowe and undoubtedly the Gold would be decided there and then. Costello was her
main threat and if she lost, both she and the English selectors were surely in for a battering
in the press. If she won the Gold it would be a great story, but if she lost it would be even
And everyone was in for a real treat. The
fight was furious. Here were two young women desperate for Gold and caught up in the fervent
atmosphere created by eager fans just bursting with energy and clamouring hungrily at every
opportunity. Like a pair of firey lionesses battling over the alpha male, the two flew at
It was thrilling stuff
The early exchanges seemed more akin to the boxing ring than a tatami. First Costello copped
a couple of blows to the mouth before she responded with a short jab of her own. It was thrilling
stuff and they hadn't even started any judo yet! Costello picked up a couple of harsh penalties
to trail by Chui and then Lowe drew first blood as the two collapsed to the mat in a
heap. The referee dithered; the crowd howled; both fighters celebrated a score; confusion
There followed a lengthy discussion between the referee and his corner judges (this would
become a regular feature due to some of the most indecisive refereeing I have ever seen at
a tournament). When they returned to their positions, Lowe was awarded a dubious Yuko. The
Scots howled with derision. Costello seemed incredulous at the decision and now she was really
up against it. Back she came with a vicious Sumi-gaeshi that splatted Lowe's face straight
down into the mat. Sheer power turned her over on to her back and Costello was a little unfortunate
to score only Yuko. She pressed on but Lowe held out for the place in the final, much to the
chagrin of her frustrated opponent. That was, as expected, the decisive contest. Lowe came
out confidently to take Gold against Catherine Roberge of Canada in the final with a trademark
Costello comfortably claimed Bronze against Marianne Sharpe of Wales with two lovely Sode-tsuri-komi-goshi
The last podium place was taken by a shocked Fijian, Sisilia Naisiga. She beat Australia's
Catherine Arlove by Waza-ari with Tani-otoshi and was so delighted at the end of the bout
that it seemed like she never wanted to leave the mat. She slumped to her knees, tears streamed
down her face and she waved joyously to touched fans, delighted at her unlikely medal.
Meanwhile, Lowe faced the press. After putting her foot in it before the tournament began,
the new Commonwealth Champion seemed composed and gracious.
Judo Tournament 2002
FALLON, Craig (ENG)
WARREN, James (ENG)
HILL, Tom (AUS)
RANDALL, Graeme (SCO)
GORDON, Winston (ENG)
GILL, Nicolas (CAN)
QERAWAQA, Nac (FIJ)
VAN DER GEEST, Dennis (NED)
SINGLETON, G. (ENG)
LOWE, Ssamantha (ENG)
ROGERS, Mischelle (ENG)
CALLENDER, S (ENG)