Edition No. 40. Autumn, 2004. Today is

Interview with Kate Howey
A World of Judo Magazine Exclusive
By: Mark Law
When I was about nine my dad, who was my first coach, said, ‘One day you’re going to be World Champion.’ I didn’t think any more about it until I was 15 when I won the Junior World Championships and I thought ‘Well, if I’ve done it as a junior maybe I can win the seniors’."And that’s how an ambition was born in the mind of Kate Howey who went on to become one of the most formidable fighters in the history of British women’s judo with two Olympic Medals and a World Championship title. This month she retired from contest judo to pursue a career as a BJA national coach.

During a break in her training at Bath, Howey, now 31 and an MBE, talked about her new life and looked back on her career in judo. It began in Hampshire where her father was a Dan Grade coach. From the age of fifteen it was clear that if she was to progress she would have to leave her local club where the girls could offer no opposition. So she started going to Dartford Judo Club run by Alan Roberts where there was a large pool of keen boys who could provide her with the training partners she needed. "It was such a good senior club -- the best club in the South." It was during a junior trials at which she got on to the British squad that she was first noticed by Roy Inman, the top women’s coach in the country and so she started to train with him at his Fairholme club housed in a crumbling wooden scout hut on a housing estate in Bedfont, close to Heathrow airport. "In those days Roy used to have the British number ones training there: Karen Briggs, Diane Bell, Sharon Rendle and Nicky Fairbrother – the whole of what was to be a victorious women’s squad at the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics.

"It was a bit of a shock to start with," she said. "I remember first walking in there and feeling quite intimidated. I was training with the idols - - it was a bit overwhelming. And although I was bigger than most of them I was the baby of the team. And it was also a big difference training five days a week"

This was the early days of women’s Olympic judo -- it did not become an official Olympic event until 1992. And Inman was a key part of its development. "He was very up to date," said Kate. "In fact he was before his time, he did a lot more video analysis for instance and things like that." As well as the runs to Hatton Cross and back under the flight paths of the aircraft coming in and out of Heathrow, there was the gruelling ‘Devil Training’. "That was nasty!" Howey also recalled the less conventional aspects of the Inman regime. "He would play music to relieve the boredom of some of the repetitive training. If we chose it, it was pop, if he chose it, it was country and very fast -- I remember Raging Horses. I also remember Right said Fred.

"After I started there, I won the Junior Worlds. But people started taking more notice of me when I won Silver at the Senior Europeans when I was only 16." She secured her place in the squad for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where she won Bronze.

And then came a blow that was to prove a serious setback to her career. In 1992 after Barcelona, Inman was sacked. "That left me in the wilderness," said Howey. "I rested on my laurels – I was a cocky teenager. If you’ve got someone there to make you do something, it’s okay. But on your own you get lazy. I just didn’t do the work. I also had to do a part time job and travel three times a week to Dartford. I just blew out at the Atlanta Olympics.

I was very disappointed by that and I was going to give it all up. In fact, I did for a about three months. It was the lowest that I’ve ever been. I lost weight and went from 71kg down to 68kg. In a way the experience was a good thing; it gave me a boot up the backside. I was anxious about what to do with the rest of my life. I’d left school without going to college or university. I wondered what I was going to do next. At that stage I was too young and inexperienced to coach. But then I began to feel I hadn’t really achieved what I could. So I rang Roy -- I knew he was doing individual coaching and I started training with him again. Eight months later I won the 97 World Championships.

From my point of view there is no difference in value between my World Champion’s title and my Olympic Silver and Bronze. But the public are always more impressed by the Olympic medals.”

Two important developments took place at the end of ‘98 in Howey’s career: "I moved to Bath so I could continue to train with Roy and then the National Lottery money came in. It meant that I didn’t have to work any more and I could train full time. It made a huge difference. There is no way now that anyone can train for international competition without training full time."

What about the changes that have occurred in women’s international competition since Howey first came onto the scene. "You can’t do pretty judo any more," she said. "It’s no good. A few Japanese might manage it. The big thing that’s happened is in the gripping: everyone is now so strong in their gripping; it’s unbelievable. And you have to be as strong as everybody else because if somebody outgrips you there’s no way you’re going to get in for an attack. Also the number of countries that are now getting medals has increased; it is no longer the same few countries winning everything all the time.

For instance, Athens was the first time that Cuba didn’t pick up a Gold medal. They had a good bunch of fighters for eight years until about 2002. They used to do a lot of flop and drop – attacking with Seoi-nage and just going on their knees without throwing. They used to get away with it but now they’re being penalised. Their other problem is they’ve just got one style. Just like the French have only got one style. All the French throw the arm over the back. They all do it, so you can prepare for it. But everyone in the British team has got a different style of fighting.”

Although she found her training in Japan valuable, she didn’t enjoy her time there much. "I spent a few months in Japan before the ‘96 Olympics with Sharon Rendle, Joyce Heron and Diane Bell. I didn’t really get on with the food – there’s only so much rice you can eat. I didn’t like the way the Japanese treated women. On a judo mat they just leave the women in one corner and even when you go out of an evening it’s women on one side and men on the other. They had no respect. But I think it has changed a bit since Tamura came on the scene. As for the training, I think judo sessions are too long. But I suppose I can’t really sit here and say that when they’ve just cleaned up at the Olympic games!"

What of her new life as a coach? "I’ve actually been coaching on and off for five years. And since February I have been working with the World Class Start programme for 12 to 16 yearolds. I do enjoy coaching. At first I didn’t because people couldn’t do what I was showing them. I’ve learnt that you’ve got to be openminded about everything. In terms of judo you have to respect the player as much as they respect you.

Nowadays the job of a coach is specialist. Roy used to do everything but now there are others who look after the fitness and strength training. I will get help from specialists, although I could do it because I have got the qualifications. I’ll be doing a lot more gripping with them. And one thing I’d introduce – and it comes from my days training with Roy at Bedfont -- a little bit of music!"

And she will not underestimate the importance of her role when she is called to that chair at the edge of the contest area. "I have always been very reliant on my mat-side coach," she explained. "Every time matte is called I’m looking at the coach – it has usually been either Roy or Diane, who was my training partner as well. She knew exactly what I was doing and what I needed to do. Even in the days when coaches didn’t have a chair by the mat and they had to sit in the spectator’s area, I used to listen to them. I remember Roy leaning over the wall at Barcelona bellowing at me!"

One more contest lay between Howey and her retirement from fighting: the European Team Championships on Oct 24. "It has been difficult to get back into hard training after Athens," she said. "It’s being held at the Courbertin stadium in Paris; coincidentally it’s the place where I fought in my first international tournament as a senior. France is a lucky place for me: it’s where I won my World title as well."

Those who have followed the career of this remarkable fighter know full well that it has never depended on luck.

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