| 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
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
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
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.
Tadahiro Nomura (JPN)
Masato Uchishiba (JPN)
Won Hee Lee (KOR)
Ilias Iliadis (GRE)
Zurab Zviadauri (GEO)
Ihar Makarau (BLR)
Keiji Suzuki (JPN)
Ryoko Tani (JPN)
Dongmei Xian (CHN)
Yvonne Boenisch (GER)
Ayumi Tanimoto (JPN)
Masae Ueno (JPN)
Noriko Anno (JPN)
Maki Tsukada (JPN)