Natalie Powell finished in 5th place on the final day of the World Masters in Doha, in her first competition since winning gold at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix back in January 2020.
Powell gave an accomplished performance in topping her Pool. After an opening round bye, she defeated Nefeli Papadakis (USA) in Round 2 and former World Championship silver medallist and 2015 European Champion Marhinde Verkerk (NED) in the quarter-final, both victories coming by way of ippon.
Unfortunately, Powell was defeated in the semi-final by world no.1 and current World and European Champion Madeleine Malonga (FRA), meaning she was progressed to the bronze medal match to face the current World and European bronze medallist Loriana Kuka (KOS).
The bronze medal contest was a cagey affair with both fighters favouring an extreme left-handed approach and the match entered Golden Score with nothing to separate the two fighters. With two penalty shidos each neither fighter could afford to pick up a third costly penalty and hand victory to their opponent.
Powell made a huge attack and came close to winning the match with some great groundwork that nearly resulted in a strangle hold. In the next exchange Powell, clearly still exhausted from her previous attack, was thrown by Kuka for ippon, meaning she had to settle for 5th place on her competitive return to world judo after 12 months away.
Speaking after the competition Powell said: “It is great to get back out on the mat today as it has been nearly a year since I last fought during which time I have got fitter and stronger. I feel my training has gone really well, the additional time has given me and my coach the opportunity to work on specific technical aspects of my judo and I came here today wanting to see where I was at. I have been feeling great in training, but you can’t replicate competition in training, it is only when you step on the mat and compete that you can really get a sense of how that training has gone.”
“Reflecting on today’s performance, I can be really pleased with how I performed, my judo was working well and a lot of the things I have been working on in training really showed. I made a few mistakes in the semi-final and bronze medal match, which girls of this quality are always going to punish, but it has shown me exactly where I am at and what we still need to work on going forwards over the next 6 months. It’s obviously really disappointing to finish 5th and be so close to the medals, but there are so many positives to take from today that I can take forward into my next competitions.”
“Looking forward, I am in the best shape of my life, I just need to continue doing what I am doing, taking each competition as it comes, and I am sure the results will improve from here.”
Also competing today was Sarah Adlington, who was narrowly defeated by former World Championship bronze medallist, Mi Jin Han (KOR) in her opening round match in Pool A in the over 78kg category. A single waza-ari score, coming in the final 30seconds of the contest, enough to see the Korean through to Round 2.
Reflecting on the past three days of competition, British Judo Head Coach, Kate Howey said: “It is fantastic to get back to competing again, albeit somewhat different to before, but the team as a whole are elated to get back into competition.”
“Coming into the World Masters, I did not know how our fighters would perform in relation to the rest of the world. However, our performances were not too far off which is a really encouraging sign, given we have gone 11 months without competition. I am sure it will not be too long before we see our British fighters back on the podium again.”
“We only have 6 months between now and the Olympic Games, and while we are coming away from the Doha World Masters with no medals, Natalie’s 5th place and some really positive performances from the rest of the team has given us a really solid foundation on which we can really build going into the next few competitions.”