Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis OBE launched the British Judo Association’s brand new Centre of Excellence today (November 12) at the University of Wolverhampton’s Walsall Campus.
Lewis, the gold medal winning heptathlete of the Sydney Olympics 2000, untied the belt and unveiled the official plaque during the official opening ceremony, alongside British Judo’s Chief Executive Andrew Scoular, British Judo Chairman Kerrith Brown and the University of Wolverhampton’s Director of Sport, Mike Chamberlain.
“Everything that British Judo needs to place an athlete on the podium and win gold is all here under one roof.
“This is a great facility and has everything that any A’ class athlete would want. In opening this centre, British Judo is well on their way to producing their first Olympic champion.
“As a daughter of Wolverhampton, it is great for me to be here today. I hope that the centre will be a huge success for the city.”
The official opening ceremony was followed by welcome speeches from representives of the University, including Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Oakes and both Brown and Chamberlain.
The event was widely attended by dignitaries, including past and present Olympians and Paralympians and other key people from within the sport. In addition, a number of the Association’s key partners were also in attendance.
Guests were treated to judo demonstrations and a tour of the on-site facilities including the performance hub complete with a state-of-the-art dojo which has two Olympic-sized mat areas for up to 100 judoka.
They also viewed the hi-tech strength and conditioning suite, as well as visiting the University’s sports science facilities. British Judo’s Centre of Excellence is a £1million venture, funded by the University of Wolverhampton.
The University donated the former sports hall and a lecture theatre and also paid for renovation works to transform the space into a state-of-the-art performance environment. Work on the facility was commissioned after an independent performance review outlined the need for a centralised programme for the sport of judo in England and took just over six months to complete.
Kerrith Brown said: “Today marks an historic day for British Judo – the opening of a new home for British Judo’s performance programme.
“In partnership with the University of Wolverhampton, I believe that we have been able to build a world-class performance environment where British Judo’s athletes can get the quality and quantity of training required for us to produce Great Britain’s first Olympic gold medallist.”
Mike Chamberlain added: “The opening of the British Judo Centre of Excellence will be a special day for the University of Wolverhampton, particularly for our ambitions to develop an Institute of Sport to support and drive performance and elite sport in the region. The partnership with British Judo firmly puts the University on the map and will demonstrate the professionalism of our services and the level of expertise here to help support British Judo’s ambitions.
“As Director of Sport for the University and a former international judo player, I am doubly proud to bring the Centre of Excellence here to the University of Wolverhampton. “Right from the outset we have had a team of staff here who are excited about the collaboration and are already giving their time and effort to support in every way possible, including sports science support and athletes testing facilities. I firmly believe that this collective team ethos will help bring success for British Judo, and greater success for University sport.”
Andrew Scoular said: “British Judo is proud to call this the home of our new performance hub.
“We have an excellent facility and we are very impressed by the speed in building the dojo.
“We look forward to a bright new future and welcoming all the new inductees to build a pathway to excellence. Ultimately we aim to deliver the first British Judo Olympic Champion through our centre.”
The centre itself will play a key role in nurturing some of the country’s best players in years to come, in particular Great Britain’s junior athletes between the ages of 17 and 22 years old – potential 2020 Olympians and beyond.
It will also cater to Great Britain’s VI squad. It also provides a base for all of Great Britain’s senior and junior squad players on the programme, providing free access to the Centre’s facilities and high quality training.
Those selected to participate full-time on the programme can stay on-site at the University’s accommodation facilities and with an option for self-funding athletes to enroll full-time at the centre.
Jean Paul Bell, who coached British Judo’s Paralympic team to silver and bronze at London 2012, is the Head of the Centre. He said: “I am excited and honoured to be part of a new era in British Judo.
“After the success of London 2012 we have an opportunity to develop and deliver a world-class performance programme from our own bespoke facility.
“The primary focus will be to develop and sustain a world-class environment with a high performance medal winning system for 2016 and beyond in both Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
He is joined by Dennis Stewart, who won a bronze medal for Great Britain at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in the mens -95kg division, as GB Centre Coach.
Dennis said: “Having spent the last few months familiarising myself with the Centre we are now looking forward to welcoming our first athletes.
“After a successful open randori last Tuesday, I cannot wait to get started with these talented athletes. We are excited about this and we have world class facilities, we hope to create the champions of the future.”
Prior to the opening members of the Australian national squad stayed on site and trialled some of the facilities ahead of the recent European Open in Glasgow. They were impressed and hope to return in time for the Commonwealth Games next year, which is testament to the facilities.
Great Britain’s Men’s Lead Coach Chris Bowles said: “From a judo perspective it is one of the most inspirational advancements and we will generate a new breed of fighter and make our own mark on British Judo. Hopefully, with the right coaches and set-up in place we should be able to see results in the not so distant future.
“We have selected a fantastic influx of players and our future looks promising.”
GB’s Women’s Lead Coach Kate Howey said: “British Judo has made a positive decision to create a centralised base for players in the country so that we can develop our podium potential players for 2016/2020.”
She added: “The national randori sessions will be instrumental in developing players. While we will continue to have strong clubs, we will have all the facilities under one roof with a fantastic dojo, fantastic strength and conditioning facilities and medical and sports science facilities.”
Words by Donna Richardson.