Sally Conway (-70kg) and Natalie Powell (-78kg) secured Britain’s first medals at the Paris Grand Slam since Euan Burton in 2008 as they both came away with bronze medals at the Bercy Arena on Sunday 7 February.
Powell showed her range throughout the day as she started off with good tactical win over the experienced Yalennis Castillo (CUB) by two shidos before throwing France’s Julie Pierret for waza-ari and ippon in quick succession to book a spot in the last eight.
The Welsh judoka came up against Olympic champion Kayla Harrison (USA) and was forced to tap out early after being caught in an arm lock. In the repechage Powell ground out another strong tactical win this time over world number four Guusje Steenhuis (NED) which set up a bronze medal contest with fellow Brit Gemma Gibbons.
Gibbons had produced some great judo as well as she threw Yahima Ramirez for ippon in her first contest. This set-up a London 2012 rematch with French star Audrey Tcheumeo and in a lung-bursting encounter it was the British judoka who came out on top with an ippon in golden score.
In the quarter-final Gibbons took the lead through waza-ari against Mongolia’s Lkhamdegd Purevjargal however she picked up a knock and was forced on the defensive to see out the contest. The British judoka was unable to challenge in the semi-final match with Mayra Aguiar (BRA) as a result and dropped into the bronze medal match with Powell.
The bronze medal match between the two British judoka was another tough, tactical encounter with Powell just having too much for her teammate in the end winning by three shidos to one.
Speaking afterwards Powell said:
“I’ve had a great day getting my first Grand Slam medal. I have beaten a player in the world top eight and gained more points for Rio qualification.”
Conway’s route to the medal rostrum was an odd one having come through a tough tactical win against former World bronze medallist Onix Cortes Aldama (CUB) in her opening contest before losing out to Canada’s Kelita Zupancic in the quarter-final.
Conway’s great rival Kim Polling (NED) was her next opponent in the repechage but the world number one dropped out due to injury giving the British judoka a chance to fight for bronze. A subsequent disqualification from the tournament in the semi-finals for French judoka Estelle Fanny Posvite meant that Conway had no opponent in her bronze contest and therefore walked away with the medal.
Commenting afterwards she said:
“I felt good today in the warm up and I put a good solid performance in my first fight. The fight with the Canadian was going to plan and then I was caught with an ashi-waza.
“Then the next two fights were given to me by one way or another and it’s not how I expected my first Paris medal to come but I will take it and take the points towards Rio.”
A number of other British judoka were in action on the day with Sarah Adlington (+78kg) reaching the last 16 after defeating Javzmaa Odkhuu (MGL) on shidos before being held down for ippon by Tessie Savelkouls (NED) in her next contest.
Owen Livesey (-81kg) and Philip Awiti-Alcaraz (-100kg) were both making their Paris debuts and both managed good wins in their first round matches over Yernazar Khamzin (KAZ) and Beka Gviniashvili (GEO). Awiti-Alcaraz was particularly memorable as he produced a huge throw to defeat the Georgian.
However both came undone in the second round with Livesey leading on shidos before being caught for waza-ari with less than 30 seconds to go against Hungary’s Laszlo Csoknyai. Awiti-Alcaraz was also leading his second contest with Gergo Fogasy (HUN) but was disqualified after being judged to have executed a leg grab before going into newaza.
Ben Fletcher was also in action in -100kg category however he lost his opening contest to Kyles Reyes (CAN) after conceding four shidos.
Elite Performance Coach Jean-Paul Bell said:
“Overall we are pleased with the way the athletes fought. Some big wins, good performances and lessons learnt. To come away from Paris with medals is always a great achievement. The athletes will crack on with the Paris training camp now and then onto the Dusseldorf Grand Prix on February 19-21.”