Fresh from an astonishing week in Samoa, four British judoka have continued their “round the world tour” and have landed in Qingdao, China for the final Grand Prix of the 2012 season.
Ashley McKenzie, Gemma Howell, Colin Oates and Tom Davis were part of the twelve-strong team that participated in Apia last weekend and the entire British contingent left the country with a medal around their necks. British Judo had such a strong time in the Southern Hemisphere that they topped the overall medal table for the competition, crushing second-place Russia by five whole podium finishes. This weekend, the travelling Britons are looking to do it all over again in China.
As things rarely are in this part of the world, the journey was not an easy one and the foursome had to stop off in Sydney for a brief stint of sightseeing and bodyboarding. When McKenzie wasn’t needlessly advertising his body through his 2013 calendar, he joined the others and support coach Luke Preston in relaxing before the next big event. Now, though, the hard work starts again for them in their struggle to maintain their weight and cope with changing time zones.
My resources are naturally limited, so I’m unsure if anyone from Apia will be joining the mix of Olympians and nearly-was judoka in China. As well as McKenzie and Howell, the golds were collected by sisters Louise and Kimberley Renicks, plus this week’s star performer Matthew Purssey. Silvers came from Davis, Oates, Connie Ramsay and Chris Sherrington, whilst the likes of Andrew Burns, Graham Trinder and Patrick Dawson won’t be too displeased with a bronze. Even if the field in China is relatively depleted compared to this dazzling feat, it’s a far cry from the last leg of the Grand Prix. Natalie Powell was the only British judoka to take part in Abu Dhabi, bringing home a silver.
Taking place in the Qingdao Guoxin Stadium (Diamond Hall), $3000 are up for grabs for each holder of a Chinese gold medal, a nice incentive to go on top of a fortnight’s globe-trotting. The event itself used to be the finale of the judo year but it has been usurped by the proximity of Japan’s Grand Slam event in Tokyo. Even so, the $100,000 prize fund (don’t ask me where it all goes) sounds tasty enough for the end of an Olympic year that has gone so well – way better than expected – for Britain.
With the draw for the main event on Friday, can McKenzie and Howell repeat their feats in Samoa and really drive British judo forward into the New Year? I’m sceptical, but I was in my last judo post and look where that got me.
It’s not much, but click here to see Ashley McKenzie (the one in the white judogi) claim the -60kg gold in Samoa.